Dr Mark Rosenthal

MD MB ChB FRCP FRCPCH BSc

Consultant in Paediatric Respiratory Medicine

also specialist in Food Allergies & Disorders of Sleep

A | A | A

T: 0207 351 8832

E: s.harvey@rbht.nhs.uk

A:The Royal Brompton Hospital, London, SW3 6NP

Are You Breathing Polluted Air?

Air pollution is a growing problem, but we are becoming more aware of the dangers. As many as 40,000 deaths every year in the UK could be linked to air pollution. The rise in asthma and allergies may also be connected to the polluted air that we are breathing.

Allergies Due to Air Pollution

Air Pollution on the Streets

Air quality in the UK has improved a lot since the times when London was known for its pea soupers. We don’t see the dense smog that used to fill our streets and choke everyone who stepped outside. However, just because the pollution is less visible doesn’t mean that our air is perfectly clean.

The main source of air pollution that we’re exposed to today is exhaust fumes. Walking down any busy street in the UK can be enough to trigger allergies or an asthma attack. Being exposed to air pollution can also exacerbate the effects of other allergens in the air. Chemicals such as nitrogen dioxide can react with pollen to increase the impact on our immune systems.

If you have asthma or allergies due to air pollution then it’s important to avoid busy streets as much as possible. Simply choosing a route with less traffic can mean you’re breathing in less pollution. You should be particularly careful and limit your time outside on days when air pollution is particularly strong. Many weather reports provide an air quality index that you can use as a guide.

What About Indoor Air Pollution?

Although air pollution is something we usually associate with smog, smoke and traffic, it can actually be a problem indoors as well as outside. In fact, since we often spend more of our day inside, we can actually be exposed to a lot more of this pollution.

The most common and dangerous form of pollution that we can encounter indoors is cigarette smoke. It is particularly harmful to the small, developing lungs of children. The chemicals left behind by cigarettes can linger in the room for hours, so it is best to prevent anyone from smoking in rooms that are used by your family.

A wide range of other indoor air pollutants can also trigger allergies and asthma:

  • Ingredients from air fresheners and cleaning products can sometimes trigger allergies or degrade into worse pollutants
  • Open fires, wood burners and even candles can all release smoke into your home
  • Mould or mildew can cause serious problems if it is allowed to grow
  • Dust, dust mites, pet hair and dander can all build up inside the home and are some of the most common triggers for allergies

While it is possible to eliminate some of these pollutants completely, others can only be minimised. For example, you might want to swap some of your cleaning products for gentler natural options or to ensure you’re using smokeless fuel on your fire.

You can also improve the air quality inside your home by ensuring it is well ventilated or investing in an air purifier or HEPA filter. Indoor air pollution is often made worse because we shut it into our homes, especially during the colder months.