Air pollution & Our Long Term Health

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We discover how air pollution affects your long term health and how this is being impacted by COVID-19

How can air pollution negatively affect long term health? In this blog we discover the causes of air pollution and what we can do to prevent a deterioration in our respiratory health due to highly polluted areas.

“The prevalence of COVID-19 has brought lung health to the forefront of the public’s mind in recent months. Good respiratory health is vital to long term wellness. A key part of this is awareness around the effects of pollution during our everyday lives.”

Dr John Chinegwundoh, Consultant Respiratory Physician 

What are the causes of air pollution?

Fossil fuels are the biggest air polluters. Burning fuels emit greenhouse gases that warm up the earth and cause significant damage to our natural ecosystem. Everyday activities also cause air pollution, from traveling by road, rail and aeroplane to heating your home and cooking food.

As increasing levels of greenhouse gases circulate within the earth’s atmosphere, we’ve already experienced a negative impact on nature, wildlife and our climate. This is known as climate change and it’s causing sea levels to rise, storms to rage and wildlife (and people) to die.

It’s a serious concern for all of us.

Lock-down has an impact on air pollution

Countries around the world are taking serious measures to curb the spread of Coronavirus amongst the global population. With many people being instructed to stay home, self-isolate and avoid travel where possible, we’re seeing a positive effect on air pollution levels.

A Guardian article reported that, “public health restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have resulted in a sharp dip in air pollution across China, Europe and the US, with carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels heading for a record 5% annual drop.

This is great news. But we need to find ways of maintaining these lower levels of air pollution if/when life returns more to normal. As the threat of Coronavirus grows, a respiratory disease that has already killed thousands, it’s never been more important to improve the quality of the air we breathe.

According to Gina McCarthy, former head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, “This isn’t the way we would’ve wanted things to happen. [Coronavirus…] is just a disaster that pointed out the underlying challenges we face.”

How does air pollution affect our health?

The World Health Organisation reports that one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution.

Microscopic pollutants in the air can slip past our body’s defences, penetrating deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart and brain. Nine out of ten people now breathe polluted air, which kills 7 million people every year.

(source: WHO)

Densely populated urban areas suffer most from air pollution, especially where there is traffic congestion. But many households also unwittingly add to air pollution levels by cooking food on open fires and burning fuel to stay warm, often in poorly ventilated areas.

What can we do to reduce air pollution?

For those lucky enough to live in safe, modern homes and residential areas, there’s a lot that can be done to reduce air pollution. The first step is to become more conscious about how you use energy and dispose of waste. You can switch to a green energy provider for peace of mind that the energy used to power and heat your home is generated from renewable sources. Try to walk or cycle rather than driving. And switch off electrical devices at home when you aren’t using them.

Trying to recycle as much as possible, limiting single use plastics and buying groceries and household essentials from ethical traders can all play a part too. Every action, regardless of how small, is better than taking no action at all.

How to improve your lung health

Looking after your lungs is extremely important, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. There are a few things you can do to improve your lung health, and boost your mental and physical wellbeing in the process!


Getting regular cardiovascular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your lungs. A brisk walk, jog, cycle or indoor fitness class will get your blood pumping and your lungs working.

Dr Rick Seah, a Musculoskeletal and Sports Injury Specialist, explains that, “any form of physical activity is better than doing nothing at all. Some members of the public have the perception that it is ‘all or nothing’- either they need to be doing physical activity to a very high standard to get the health benefits, or it is not worth bothering with at all. That is incorrect!”

Avoid smoking and exposure to smoke

Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable deaths. Smoking thickens your blood, clogs your arteries and puts undue pressure on your heart. It also has a severe, sometimes fatal, effect on your lungs and can cause pneumonia, emphysema and lung cancer.

The simplest way to improve your lung health is to avoid smoking. Remember that even if you don’t smoke, you can put your lungs at risk if you’re exposed to second-hand smoke.

Stay away from busy areas

If you leave your home, especially when exercising, try to avoid busy areas. At present, this is even more important to minimise the spread of Coronavirus.

But it’s a good habit for the longer-term too. In particular, try to avoid busy roads as cars are notorious air polluters!

Invest in plants

Some house plants can reduce air pollution by cleaning the air inside our homes and acting as natural air purifiers. Breathing clean air is a sure-fire way to improve your lung health.

As we’re spending more time than ever at home due to the Coronavirus outbreak, now is a great opportunity to invest in plants and greenery for your home

Advice about lung health

If you’re concerned about your lung health or need advice on how to stay healthy, we can help! Our team of GPs is on hand to support and advise you on all aspects of your healthcare, from General Health, Mental Health and Sexual Health to Diet and Nutrition, Pregnancy and Physical Fitness.

You can book a remote GP appointment in minutes and receive a diagnosis, prescription or referral in the same day. Get in touch to find out more or sign up now!

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