Leading respiratory charity advises Coronation Street researchers on storyline where a child suffers an asthma attack thought to be triggered by air pollution

For the 5.4 million people with asthma, air pollution poses a daily threat to their condition by potentially triggering asthma attacks

Starting next week (Monday 23rd August, ITV1, 7.30pm), the nation’s longest running soap will feature a storyline highlighting the devastating impact that air pollution is having on children’s lungs up and down the country, to its millions of viewers.

In tense scenes to be aired Monday night, 12-year-old character Liam Connor Jr (played by Charlie Wrenshall) will be seen fighting for his breath as paramedics battle through Weatherfield’s highly congested streets and double-parked cars, to reach him.

Once safely at hospital, Liam accompanied by his fraught mum Maria, will learn that he had suffered an asthma attack, which the doctor believes could have been triggered by air pollution from traffic fumes.

Just eight months ago, a landmark inquest in London found air pollution made a material contribution to the death of schoolgirl, Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who suffered a fatal asthma attack at nine-years-old.  Her death certificate became the first in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death.

Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation is proud to have advised Coronation Street’s scriptwriters to ensure that the storyline delivers an accurate and responsible portrayal of a child having an asthma attack, including: symptoms to look out for in the build up to an asthma attack; how an asthma attack looks and feels; how people surrounding someone having an asthma attack may behave and what they should do; how asthma would be treated and diagnosed as an emergency hospital admission; and how the patient and their family adapt to life and ongoing treatment, post diagnosis.

Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: Air pollution is at lethal levels in many parts of the country and not enough is being done to make people aware of the damage it is doing to their health and to tackle the problem. For people with existing lung conditions, it can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks. Being able to raise awareness of the issue with Coronation Street’s large and diverse audience is a dream come true. Particularly now, when the UK government can help to protect everybody’s health by committing to world-leading air pollution limits, in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.”

Woolnough continued: “We all have our part to play in reducing harmful levels of air pollution and one way to do that is to campaign to raise awareness of air quality issues impacting people’s health in your local area, like characters Sally and Maria.”

John Whiston, Managing Director of Continuing Drama and Head of ITV in the North for ITV Studios, said: "Clean air is an issue that affects us all wherever we live but particularly a small urban street like Coronation Street. So it felt right to look at the wider environmental issue through Liam's asthma and traffic on The Street. Hopefully, as well as being an issue that provides drama and divides our community, it also throws a light on what we can all be doing to clean up the air we breathe."

Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK, with 36,0001 premature deaths a year attributed to long-term exposure. It can worsen or “trigger” existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma and COPD, and it can also lead to the development of new conditions in adults and children.

Children and babies, including those in the womb, are more vulnerable to polluted air than adults because their airways are smaller and still developing. For those growing up in highly polluted areas, air pollution has been found to stunt the growth of their lungs2.

Air pollution in Manchester and the UK…

While Coronation Street may be set in a fictional town, in real life over half a million3 children under the age of 16 are growing up in areas of Greater Manchester that are affected or surrounded by extremely high levels of pollution.  Parts of Greater Manchester have the worst rates4 of childhood asthma in the country and there are also higher rates of childhood asthma hospital admission5 across Greater Manchester than the rest of England.

In Spring 2022, Manchester’s Clean Air Zone (CAZ)6 will launch with the aim of reducing pollution levels across all 10 local authorities; but without plans to include restrictions on private cars, its proposed impact has come under scrutiny by leading health charities and environmental campaigners.

A recent report7 commissioned by the charity revealed that the problem is country-wide with almost a quarter of all schools and colleges in Britain (8,549) found to be in areas where air pollution is above WHO guideline limits.

Wednesday’s episode...Maria joins Sally’s campaign…

In Wednesday night’s episode (25th August), a shocked Maria will join Sally’s (played by Sally Dynevor) campaign to reduce traffic on the street. Maria also pledges to give up her car.

Samia Longchambon, who plays Maria Windass, admits that to begin with, her character is not that bothered about Sally’s campaign: “It’s not until the problem directly impacts on her and Liam’s health that she takes up the mantle.”

She continues: “Liam has a bit of a chesty cough. One day he’s playing football on the street, then suddenly he collapses, struggling to breathe. Maria doesn’t know what’s going on. She just sees him gasping for air, struggling to breathe and it’s terrifying. At the hospital the doctor says his asthma could have been caused by pollution and because there’s been an increase in traffic and pollution on the street Maria just sees red. She’s fuming and it becomes her mission to get rid of all the vehicles causing the heavy pollution on the street.”

Julia Kovaliova, a busy mum-of-three from Manchester, who’s 11-year-old son Maksim has asthma triggered by air pollution, knows a thing or two about campaigning for clean air. She is co-founder of Trees Not Cars, a group who recently won a court case preventing a former retail park, situated next to a primary school, from being used as a temporary 440-space car park. Julia said: “Decision makers and councils can get it wrong. If you are prepared to take-action and stand up for what you believe in, you can achieve good results and positive change.”  

Getting help and advice:

Last year, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation responded to over 30,000 calls to its helplines which are run by volunteers and trained asthma nurses.

If you are worried about yourself or a loved one you can call the Asthma UK Helpline on 0300 222 5800, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm or visit the website www.asthma.org.uk. You can also WhatsApp us on 07378 606 728. If you think you are having an asthma attack, call 999.

The British Lung Foundation runs a dedicated helpline for people affected by all lung conditions, including asthma, COVID-19, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). For help and information, visit the website www.blf.org.uk, or call the Helpline on 03000 030 555. To sign up as a Clean Air Hero, visit the British Lung Foundation’s Clean Air Hub blf.org.uk/take-action/clean-air

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Media contact:  

Jardine Howlett at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation: mediaoffice@auk-blf.org.uk; 0207 786 4949  

Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation merged on the 1 January 2020 

Asthma UK’s mission is to stop asthma attacks and, ultimately, cure asthma. We do this by funding world leading research, campaigning for improved care and supporting people to reduce their risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. We are entirely funded by voluntary donations. For further information, please visit: asthma.org.uk

The British Lung Foundation offers hope, help and a voice to the 1 in 5 people in the UK affected by lung disease. We provide support and information to improve the everyday lives of people with lung disease. We are also campaigning for better diagnosis, treatment, and prevention for now and the future. For further information, please visit blf.org.uk. 

Sources:

1.Public Health England publishes air pollution evidence review - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

2. SMD - Study of 2,000 children suggests London air pollution is restricting lung development - Queen Mary University of London (qmul.ac.uk)

3. ONS, 2016a  

4. Public Health England (2019)  Fingertips - childhood asthma admissions (2018-2019 for children 0-9 years old) 

5. Public Health England (2019)  Fingertips - childhood asthma admissions (2018-2019 for children 0-9 years old) 

6.Manchester Evening News (June 2021) (Greater Manchester's Clean Air Zone deemed 'weak' by environmental charities)

7. Invisible threat: read the report | British Lung Foundation (blf.org.uk)

Additional Information:

Wendy Davies, Health Advice Manager, at Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation, shares these top tips:

Top tips to protect yourself from air pollution:

1. Join the fight for clean air. Like Maria and Sally, you too can campaign for clean air in your local area and help raise awareness of the dangers of air pollution. The British Lung Foundation’s Clean Air Hub (www.blf.org.uk/take-action/clean-air) has a range of resources available to help and inspire you or your child’s campaign. Plus, you can have fun and meet new people at the same time.

2. Know what to do in an asthma attack: If it’s you or someone else having an asthma attack, it’s important to know what to do. If you’re helping someone, it’s important to stay calm and encourage the person having the attack to sit upright. Encourage them to take one puff of their reliever inhaler every 30—60 seconds, for up to 10 puffs. If the person doesn’t improve, call an ambulance and while you wait, encourage them to take a further 10 puffs on their inhaler every 30-60 seconds. Read more about what to do in an asthma attack: www.asthma.org.uk/advice/asthma-attacks/

3. Prevention: If you have asthma, the key is to look after your condition. Take your preventer inhaler every day, as prescribed, and follow your asthma action plan – even when you’re well. Your preventer inhaler works by reducing the underlying inflammation in your airways (such as the inflammation caused by air pollution). This helps to prevent asthma your symptoms from flaring up. Check out the videos on our website to make sure you are using your inhaler correctly. www.asthma.org.uk/advice/inhaler-videos 

4. Reliever Inhaler: If you have asthma, always carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue). It can be a life-saver, as you never know when triggers, such as air pollution, could affect your asthma.

5. Air Quality Alerts: Check Air Quality Alerts on the weather forecast or online (www.uk[1]air.defra.gov.uk). On high pollution days, prepare yourself and take extra precautions. Consider doing exercising indoors, especially strenuous exercise. If you have to go out, walk on the inside of the pavement – the further you are from the traffic, the lower the pollution levels are.

6. Take side streets: Everyone can reduce their exposure to air pollution by avoiding main roads and busy junctions, where pollution levels tend to be higher. Instead, plan your route and take side streets, where there’s less traffic.

7. Use your car less: Consider reducing your car usage for your own benefit and for others, particularly on short journeys. Even when you’re in your car, you and your children can breathe in polluted air – from traffic fumes, petrol vapour, tobacco smoke and chemicals. In fact, air pollution levels can often be higher inside your car than outside. Walking, cycling and scooting to work or school can be a fun and healthy way to start the day. If you still need to use your car for some journeys, perhaps make a pledge to have more car-free days.

8. Find out more about air pollution. Visit the Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation websites for further information

Asthma: Signs to look out for in children:

Spotting asthma symptoms in your child: Ask your doctor about asthma if your child or baby has one or more of these tell-tale symptoms – a cough, wheezing, chest tightness (your child may describe this as a tummy ache) and breathlessness. It is possible, as with Liam’s case, for symptoms to be missed or diagnosed as a virus, which is why it’s important to tell your GP if you suspect asthma.

• Air pollution is a possible risk factor for everyone with asthma. However, children are more at risk than adults, as their lungs are still growing and developing. If your child breathes high levels of air pollution over a long period, they might be at risk of their lungs not working as well as they grow older. They may also develop asthma during childhood or as an adult. If they have asthma already, air pollution can make it worse.