Where is air pollution worse?
Higher levels or air pollution are generally found in towns and cities, where there’s more road traffic. If you walk or drive on main roads to get to work or school, you’ll be exposed to pollution on a daily basis.
A lot of pollution is also produced around building sites, factories, power stations, airports and docks.
But in the countryside, farming can also create air pollution, and ozone levels are higher in the countryside too. In areas where people use wood burning stoves, or coal fires in their homes, this adds to pollution in the air.
Fine particulate matter (PM) can travel long distances. Saharan dust can be carried over to the UK on high winds, causing poor air quality here, and resulting in health alerts for people with asthma and other lung conditions.
The weather affects pollution levels
Pollution levels can be higher when the air is still.
In summer, air pollution levels are often high on hot, sunny days.
Top tips for high pollution days
- Limit outdoor activities and exercise so you avoid breathing in too much polluted air.
- Go out earlier in the day when air quality tends to be better.
- Stay on quieter, back streets if possible, avoiding areas where there’s a lot of traffic.
- Walk on the inside of the pavement because pollution levels are lower the further you are from the traffic.
- Keep your car windows closed if you’re driving, especially if you’re driving in slow-moving traffic.
- Be prepared by checking pollution levels in your area. Defra produces a UK-wide pollution forecast every day, and for the next five days, so you can check to see if your local area is likely to be affected.
Carry your reliever inhaler with you
If you have a reliever (or rescue) inhaler, make sure you always have it with you, so you can use it quickly if your symptoms get worse.
If you’re using your reliever inhaler more than usual, follow your action plan, and talk to your GP or asthma nurse.
Does wearing a mask help when pollution levels are high?
Wearing a mask is not included in Defra's recommended actions and health advice for dealing with air pollution.
Masks with active charcoal filters can help filter out nitrogen dioxide, but these don’t keep out the smallest particulate matter, which is most damaging to your health.
We know that some people with lung conditions find that face masks make it harder to breathe.
Check pollution levels near you
Defra's Daily Air Quality Index (DAQI) tells you whether pollution levels are low, moderate, high or very high near you . See an up-to-date pollution forecast for your area.
You can also get air pollution updates on the @DefraUKAir Twitter feed or by calling the Defra helpline on 0800 55 66 77.
- Air Quality in Scotland monitors local pollution levels and provides free Know & Respond air pollution alerts.
- Northern Ireland Air monitors air quality. You can also subscribe to the Air Aware service to get texts when air pollution is high.
- Air Quality in Wales monitors local pollution levels across Wales.
Greater London and South East England
- airText offers free text alerts for London, Chelmsford, Colchester or Cambridge.
- City Air app offers email alerts for London.
- London Air monitors pollution levels across London and provides a mobile app.
- airAlert offers free alerts for Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire and Sevenoaks.
What you can do to lower air pollution
Asthma + Lung UK is campaigning for cleaner air. You can join our campaign and help everyone breathe cleaner air.
We can all try and help the quality of the air we breathe by:
- using public transport instead of driving when we can
- walking or cycling if possible, particularly for short trips. This will cut down air pollution and keep us active too. Asthma + Lung UK is campaigning for people with lung conditions who find it difficult to walk or cycle to have access to cleaner cars and good public transport
- not idling while stationary if we’re driving. This means not leaving the engine going when you’re pulled in somewhere
- buying cars with lower emissions
- getting cars serviced regularly, including checking the tyres
- avoiding using wood burning stoves or other fossil fuels for heating.
If you have child at school, you could talk to the school about anti-idling zones, car sharing or park and stride scheme.
Why not encourage your child’s school to join our Clean Air Champions scheme?
If you’re worried about pollution in your local area, you can contact the environmental health department of your local authority.