Breathe Easy Week coincides with the British Lung Foundations ‘Love Your Lungs Week, 21-27 June’ a week in which people come together to raise awareness around lung health and the impacts that it can have on both a person’s mental & physical health.
Approximately 10,000 people in the UK are newly diagnosed with a lung disease every week and over the last year in particular, the pandemic has taught us how important it is to love your lungs and care for your respiratory health.
Air pollution in the UK is currently at dangerously high levels, putting people’s health at risk and causing serious long-term conditions. Unfortunately, it is also some of the most vulnerable in our society that are most at risk. Children, those who are pregnant, older people and the 12 million people living with pre-existing lung conditions are most effected.
What is air pollution?
An air pollutant is anything in the air that could harm people’s health. There are many pollutants in the air, although the particularly damaging ones are: small particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide, ozone and sulphur dioxide.
Levels of air pollution vary across the UK. Higher levels are generally found in most UK towns and cities. This is where sources of pollution, such as road traffic, are more concentrated. In the country, farming can also be a source of air pollution.
Where does air pollution come from?
Different types of air pollution come from different sources, so the mix of pollutants found varies across the UK. Air pollution can travel long distances and can affect areas far away from where it was formed. It’s even possible for UK pollution levels to be affected by sources from outside the country.
In towns and cities, the main source of air pollution is road transport. Other sources of air pollution include:
- sources of smoke, including cigarette smoke
- burning fuel in houses for heating or cooking
- emissions from power generation
What are the effects of air pollution on your lungs?
The effect that air pollution has on your lungs depends on the type and mix of pollutants in the air, the concentration of pollutants and how much of the pollutant gets down into your lungs.
If you’re exposed to high pollution levels, for example on a busy road or during a high pollution episode, you may experience a rapid onset of symptoms. These include irritated airways, feeling out of breath and coughing. If you find these symptoms happen regularly you should visit your doctor for a review.
Who’s most at risk from air pollution?
People react to air pollution in different ways and some are more affected than others.
Air pollution is especially harmful to people who are living with a lung condition, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Older people, children and babies also have a higher risk of experiencing symptoms and other harmful effects from breathing in polluted air.
Healthy people who work or exercise outdoors might also experience symptoms when they’re exposed to moderate or high levels of pollution. They may feel out of breath or start coughing.
How can I protect myself from air pollution?
On high pollution days, the best thing you can do to reduce your exposure to air pollution is to avoid main roads and busy streets where possible. If you have a lung condition or have children, this is even more important, consider taking precautions such as these:
- Reduce or avoid strenuous, outdoor exercise. If you have a lung condition, exercise has many benefits, so if possible, keep doing your exercise indoors in a well-ventilated room or gym.
- Stay away from pollution hotspots such as main roads and busy road junctions.
- Try to get to work a little earlier before rush hour has begun and levels of pollution have built up.
- If you cycle, run or walk as part of your commute, use back streets away from the bulk of vehicle congestion.
- Walk on the inside of the pavement – the further you are from the traffic the lower the pollution levels are.
- Make sure you carry your reliever inhaler with you if you use one.
- If you have asthma, make sure you use your preventer inhaler regularly.
- Make sure you carry or know your asthma plan. If you don’t have one, ask your doctor for one.
Local Air Pollution Forecast
DEFRA (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) releases pollution forecasts daily for your area, check yours here – DEFRA’s UK AIR.
Further information about AIR Pollution and Lung Disease can be found at – British Lung Foundation.