Blog post: It’s not easy to control the air we breathe. But you can control how you manage your asthma

There’s rarely a day when pollution’s not in the news: whether it’s the danger of diesel or school closures due to toxic air.

Author: Dr Andy Whittamore, In-house GP at Asthma UK.
25 May 2017

Dr Andy Whittamore from Asthma + Lung UK

Pollution is a trigger in its own right but it also makes it more likely you’ll react to your other asthma triggers such as pollen and house dust mites. Dealing with pollution on top of weather conditions or high pollen levels can add up to asthma becoming uncontrolled, putting you or your child at risk of an asthma attack.

If you or your child have asthma it’s more than a headline – it’s a tangible risk, particularly if you live in built-up areas or close to airports, seaports or industrial sites.

I regularly hear from my patients noticing a link between symptoms and air quality: people with experiences like Jemma’s, who told Asthma + Lung UK that she avoids certain parts of central London to prevent asthma flare-ups.

Children and pollution

Pollution is a potential risk for everyone with asthma – but children are among those most at risk because their lungs are still growing and developing. That’s why we see so many news stories about air quality around schools and calls for parents not to leave cars revving outside during the school run. There’s even some evidence that exposure to high concentrations of pollution over time plays a part in causing asthma - Asthma + Lung UK is joining forces with Kings College London in a study to identify the pollution-asthma link. 

Good asthma control

While it’s possible to avoid some common asthma triggers like pets and smoking, pollution is a tricky one. There’s not much we can do about living or going to school on a main road – most of us can’t move house or change schools at the drop of a hat, and not everyone has the time to take a long detour during their daily commute.

But you can take control of your asthma. Fortunately, all the evidence tells us that if you take your preventer medicine every day as prescribed, even when you feel well, you’ll cope better with your asthma triggers, including pollution. Getting symptoms or needing your reliever inhaler three or more times per week are signs that you’re not on top of your asthma and your risk of problems due to poor air quality will be higher.

Using a written asthma action plan is a proven way to help you stay in control of your asthma – and if your child has asthma, also encourage them to use a calendar and stickers to record symptoms. Don’t forget to attend regular asthma reviews with your GP or asthma nurse so you can make sure everything’s being done to keep you or your child symptom-free.

Top tips for poor air quality days

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep informed about high pollution days and take care when you’re out and about: if you’re walking or cycling try to avoid main roads; if you’re driving, keep car windows shut and pollution out. Always carry your reliever with you, so you can deal with symptoms quickly.

Air quality is an issue that affects us all, young and old, but it’s good to know that if you’re getting all your asthma care basics right it can reduce pollution’s effects on your asthma.

Find out more about pollution and what you can do to cut the risk of it making asthma symptoms worse.

Poor air quality is not just an outside problem. Did you know that research tells us that a child exposed to indoor air pollutants such as tobacco smoke is more likely to feel the effects of outdoor pollution?

Dr Andy Whittamore from Asthma + Lung UK

Dr Andy Whittamore is a GP based in Hampshire, specialising in respiratory care. He’s Asthma + Lung UK’s in-house GP, where he works on building relationships with key opinion leaders in respiratory care, identifying emerging issues in asthma, and providing the charity with clinical expertise.