Air pollution and asthma

It is well understood that air pollutants often act as a trigger to make people’s asthma symptoms worse.

In 1995 the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP) concluded that ‘exposure to ambient concentrations of air pollutants is associated with an increase in exacerbations of asthma in those who already have the condition’, and more recent evidence has only served to confirm this.

Asthma UK, partners of the Healthy Air Campaign, say this: “Two-thirds of people with asthma tell us that traffic fumes make their asthma worse and 42% find that traffic fumes discourage them from walking or shopping in congested areas. And 85% of people with asthma tell us they are concerned about the effect that increasing vehicle fumes will have on their and their family’s health in the future.”

However, the question of whether air pollution causes asthma is still open for debate. There is some strong evidence to suggest causation. Asthma UK believe that pollution plays a role in causing asthma in children and adults, as well as being a trigger that can make people’s asthma symptoms worse. The Aphekom Study, which took the work of 60 scientists across 12 countries in Europe suggests that living near busy roads could be responsible for some 15-30 percent of all new cases of asthma in children.

COMEAP are somewhat more cautious. In a recent statement they conclude that while at a community level (i.e. city or administrative level) induction of asthma does not seem to be associated with the level of air pollutants, there is valid evidence from studies on traffic-related air pollution which suggests that air pollution plays a part in induction of some individuals who live near busy roads with high levels of heavy goods vehicles.

5 Responses to Air pollution and asthma

  1. Luke R says:

    This website really helpful to me. Thanks

  2. janet Green says:

    I have been aware of the problems associated with particulates and nitrous oxides from diesel vehicles for some time. I am personally affected by these pollutants which cause me asthma type symptoms. I try to avoid busy roads, but its not always possible. We own a car, which runs on petrol, which we use only when strictly necessary, but many of our neighbours and acquaintances have diesel vehicles and we are astounded by the fact that they pay far less road tax than us on account of the fact that diesel is seen to be far less polluting! Currently Diesel fuel is also cheaper than petrol. The government seem to be influencing choice and encouraging people to opt for diesel. I would really like to help to raise awareness on this issue. Please tell me how I can do this.

    • Andrea Lee says:

      Hi Janet. Sorry to hear about how it is affecting your asthma. You are right about how diesel is being incentivised by Government policies. sadly despite knowing about the health impacts from diesels for a long time, past and current governments have failed to address this issue. There a quite a few things that you can do (apart from signing up to support the campaign). On a personal level it’s useful for you to share your experience and knowledge with friends and family as you will be surprised about how little awareness there is about the health impacts of air pollution and what can be done about it. You could also share your story with the local press as they always like to hear from local residents. Depending on where yo live there might be a local group that you can join or talk to about air pollution issues. Some of our campaign partners have local groups who might be interested in finding out more or campaigning on local issues e.g. the British Lung Foundation has Breathe Easy groups and three are plenty of Friends of the Earth and Campaign for Better Transport local groups around. You might also live in one of the 16 cities or zones affected by ClientEarth’s legal challenge against the Government. The Government will be consulting before the end of the year on new plans to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels in these areas in as short a time as possible. We will let people know when this happens so that more people can respond but in the meantime you might want to highlight this issue with your local elected representatives to ensure that they know about this and that they also know that their residents care about air pollution. You could also write to your MP to ask them what they are doing to reduce air pollution and specifically ask them to write to the Chancellor about the financial incentivisation of diesel. For inspiration on what more could be done you can take a look at our policy calls. Good luck and do let us know how you get on.

  3. […] pollution is one of the main triggers of breathing disorders such as asthma.  A study found that two-thirds of people found traffic fumes to make their asthma worse, and a shocking 42% of asthma suffers actively avoid areas of high traffic to protect their health. […]

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