Air pollution and health

Certain weather conditions can lead to a build up of air pollutants associated with emissions from transport and burning fuel. These raised levels of air pollution can affect health.

Weather conditions

During winter, cold, still conditions can increase the level of pollutants at ground level. In summer, hot weather, without much wind can also lead to raised concentrations of pollutants.

Advice for people with health conditions

Most people aren't affected by short term peaks in air pollution. But some people with existing heart or lung conditions, may experience increased symptoms.

If you think you may be affected by air pollution levels, you should consider modifying your treatment when symptoms increase and consult your doctor if this is not effective.

You could reduce the time you spend outdoors or avoid busy, congested streets.

If your breathing is affected during cold, calm conditions or on hot, sunny days, you should:

  • avoid strenuous outdoor activity
  • ensure you have medication, such as an asthma inhaler

Children with asthma should be able to take part in games. They may need to increase their use of reliever medicines before participating. They shouldn't need to stay away from school.

If you suffer from a heart condition and notice a change in your symptoms, you should get medical advice.

Air pollution alerts text service

You can receive high air pollution alerts free to your mobile phone to let you know when air pollution levels are high.  To subscribe to the 'Air Aware' service , text AIR to 67300.

Alerts are free but text messages to the service cost your normal standard rate.

Air quality measurement 

Air pollution is classified as:

  • low (one to three)
  • moderate (four to six)
  • high (seven to nine)
  • very high (ten)

for particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and ozone. 

Checking air quality in your area

For more information about current levels of air pollution, its causes and effects, go to:

To hear the latest air pollution information, contact the free helpline:

  • telephone: 0800 556677

Action you can take to reduce air pollution

To help reduce air pollution:

  • avoid burning solid fuels if possible and burn only smokeless fuels in smoke control areas
  • avoid lighting bonfires, especially while pollution levels are high
  • walk or cycle rather than drive

When you have to drive:

  • switch off the engine if you're stationary for more than a couple of minutes
  • drive smoothly, this saves you fuel and money and your vehicle emits less pollution
  • avoid overfilling the petrol tank and spilling petrol, this evaporates and releases hydrocarbons that are toxic and form ozone

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