What does air pollution do to people with a lung condition?

Spikes in air pollution levels can lead to worsening symptoms, flare-ups, asthma attacks and in some cases hospitalisation. Discover more about how people with lung conditions are affected by air pollution.

One in five people in the UK are affected by a lung condition, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Spikes in air pollution pose an immediate threat to people living with these lung conditions.

Risk of hospitalisation

A spike in air pollution levels can lead to symptoms getting worse, flare-ups and asthma attacks and even hospitalisation. This is having a significant and avoidable impact on our NHS with an estimated additional 20,000 hospital admissions each year linked to air pollution episodes, according to the Royal College of Physicians.

There is robust evidence, including from Asthma + Lung UK funded research, showing a link between high levels of air pollution and increased numbers of patients with breathing problems presenting at hospitals and GP surgeries.

First time air pollution on a death certificate

These devasting effects were well documented in the case of Ella-Kissi Debrah, where the coroner ruled in 2020 that air pollution was a significant trigger for the asthma attack that proved fatal for her, and that air pollution played a critical role in the induction of her asthma and the worsening of her symptoms.

Phillip’s story

At three years old I was diagnosed with asthma, and about six years old I was first admitted to hospital because of the impact of air pollution on my lungs. When I was nine years old, a nurse had to stay by my bedside because I stopped breathing several times throughout the night. I have been admitted about twenty times throughout the course of my life. I now use a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine which aids my breathing when I sleep, but for decades I dealt with poor sleep.

My asthma has had a big impact on my adult life and is directly affected by air pollution. It exacerbates my symptoms and makes me breathless. I can really feel the difference in my breathing when the weather is hot and air pollution is more concentrated. When air pollution levels are too high, I am unable to work, which means air pollution has undoubtedly contributed to the amount of sick leave I have had to take from my work.

It is very important to shift the narrative of air pollution to focus on the health impacts that it has on people like me. It is absolutely crucial that we all take action now.