The TelegraphPollution and dust storm could trigger health problems 'lasting weeks', doctors warn
Asthmatics, people with chronic lung conditions and cystic fibrosis sufferers could have their conditions worsened by the pollution crisis, doctors say
By Keith Perry and James Edgar
4:45PM BST 02 Apr 2014
High levels of pollution could trigger health problems that remain weeks after the Saharan dust has settled, medical experts warned.
Asthmatics, people with chronic lung conditions and cystic fibrosis sufferers could have their conditions worsened by the pollution crisis, doctors said. Around two thirds of the 3.6 million people with asthma find that air pollution makes their asthma worse.
People with asthma were told they might need to use their blue reliever inhalers more often as they could be prone to attacks over the next few days. Other people with lung and heart problems, and those who are older, should also avoid strenuous exercise or activity.
Across most of England, moderate to high air pollution levels were being recorded, with level 10 - "very high" - found in parts of East Anglia and the East Midlands.
High levels of pollution are forecast for East Anglia, the Midlands, Lincolnshire, eastern parts of Wales, through the Wirral and the north coast of Wales. High levels will move north over much of coastal north-west England, to south-west Scotland and the north-east of Northern Ireland.
The elevated pollution levels have been caused by a combination of light south-easterly winds, the continental air flow and dust which has blown up from the Sahara desert.
Dr Keith Prowse, honorary medical adviser to the British Lung Foundation, said: "Heavy air pollution of the kind we're seeing in several places across the UK at the moment can have a significant impact on people with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and asthma, worsening symptoms such as coughing and breathlessness.
"When levels of air pollution are high, people with these conditions, or anyone else who finds themselves coughing or wheezing in times of high pollution, should avoid strenuous exercise outdoors and are better off trying to exercise away from pollution hotspots, such as busy roads or during rush hour."
“Asthma flare-ups can take a while to settle down again and from a point of view of people with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), they get problems because of the irritation which causes inflammation in the tubes and makes them produce more mucous and that can take a long while to settle down and it’s not uncommon to see the effects going on for several weeks.
“People with other conditions such as cystic fibrosis get into trouble with exposure to severe irritants too.
Dr Prowse said people with undiagnosed asthma could find the current pollution levels trigger the condition.
“If there’s any sort of tendency to develop asthma, it could trigger an attack and start them on the asthma pathway – then they may need some longer term treatment.”
He warned joggers who suffer asthma to avoid running because of the pollution levels.
“I have seen people out running with a preventer inhaler in their hand. It’s sheer stupidity for someone with asthma to do that the moment.”
Dr Prowse said there is reasonably good evidence from epidemiological studies to show that pollution does appear to give a higher incidence of chest problems, “be they asthma COPD, or other”.
“If you live somewhere like Paris, Athens, Beijing or Shanghai, the pollution levels are incredibly high and you are going to get problems because you don’t get any relief.
“There was a report a few weeks ago talking about a very high pollution levels around Buckingham Palace and I would guess it never gets back to a reasonable level on the Defra scale. People living in that atmosphere have a bigger risk of problems. And Saharan dust pollution is just an addition to it.”
He said Windsor Castle would be better option for the Queen, aged 87, and Prince Philip, 92, until the pollution level drops.
Angela Jones, Asthma Nurse Specialist for Asthma UK said she would be "very surprised" if there wasn't a spike in asthma admissions.
"It is very difficult for asthma sufferers at this time of the year. They have already had to contend with an early pollen season which started in late January and now they have Saharan dust adding to their problems. Sufferers need to keep their asthma under control to prevent long term damage and take their medication. They need to carry their asthma reliever with them at all times.
"Sufferers should also stay away from high density traffic if they do need to go out," she added.
She said 1,200 people die each year from asthma attacks.
Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King's College London, said: "Whether home-produced or arriving from the continent, the tiny particles we take into our bodies with each breath cause immediate problems for some individuals such as those with asthma and contribute to longer term problems for most of us in the form of heart disease and stroke.”
Dr Helen Dacre, a meteorologist at the University of Reading, said high air pollution could cause "unpleasant and dangerous effects on health", both long and short term.
She said: "Toxic gases, such as nitrogen dioxide and ozone, as well as fine dust particles in the air blown in from the Sahara and from burning fossil fuels, all contribute to cause problems for people with heart, lung and breathing problems, such as asthma.
"The problem is likely to be particularly bad today because weather conditions have conspired to create a 'perfect storm' for air pollution.
"British car drivers and heavy industry create bad enough smog on their own, but the weather is also importing pollution from the industrialised urban parts of Europe, which is blowing across Britain.
"Saharan dust gets blown over to Britain several times a year - the current episode has been whipped up by a large wind storm in North Africa. This has all combined to create high concentrations of pollutants in the air."
Ian Colbeck, professor of environmental science at the University of Essex, said: "This pollution episode comes just a week after the World Health Organisation estimated that seven million premature deaths annually are linked to air pollution.
"It is now the biggest single environmental health risk. In the past, respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) were thought to be the main killers but it now emerges that heart disease and strokes account for up to 80% of deaths."
Meanwhile parts of eastern England, the Midlands and Wales over the next few days will experience the highest levels of air pollution on the government’s official scale, and those with heart and lung problems have been warned by environmental experts to avoid "strenuous activity".
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said certain areas would reach 10 out of 10 - or “very high” - on its air cleanliness chart on Tuesday and Wednesday.
When levels reach 7 to 9 on Defra's chart, adults and children with lung problems and adults with heart problems are advised to reduce exertion.
Those with asthma are told they may find they need to use their inhaler more often and older people are also advised to reduce physical exertion.
When pollution levels reach 10, the general population is told to “reduce physical exertion, particularly outdoors, especially if you experience symptoms such as sore eyes, cough or sore throat”.
Defra said the elevated pollution levels have been caused by a combination of light south-easterly winds, the continental air flow and dust which has blown up from the Sahara desert.
North-west Norfolk should experience the highest level of air pollution on Tuesday, while East Anglia will experience "high" levels and parts of south-east England and the Humber region will experience "moderate" pollution.
Experts are anticipating "high" or "very high" air pollution levels across much of England and Wales on Wednesday.
The high levels of pollution are expected to continue across East Anglia and the Midlands on Thursday, but the air pollution is expected to ebb away by Friday.
Last weekend, some people found their cars to be covered in a light coating of red dust. The Met Office said that a large amount of sand and dust was swept up by storm winds in the Sahara Desert.
Experts said that the airborne particles of dust were blown north to the UK where they combined with our warm air and were deposited during showers.
Asthma UK offers a helpline for people with concerns. The number is 0800 121 6244