Simpler system of air quality forecasts will benefit asthmatics

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) says that the system will make it easier for people with asthma and other lung diseases to take precautions when air quality is poor, as well as encouraging the public to work towards improving air quality.

Under the system, the four existing air pollution bands of low, moderate, high, and very high will be retained, but a 1-10 numerical index will also be introduced giving more detailed forecasts within those bands. The bandings take into account levels of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and ozone, which are all thought to lead to irritation of the airways in the lungs. Levels of fine particles in the air and carbon monoxide are also considered.

DEFRA warns that patients with asthma or other lung diseases may experience an exacerbation of their symptoms when air pollution reaches the high or very high bands (grades 7 to 10).

Dr John Harvey, a lung specialist from Southmead Hospital in Bristol and spokesman for the British Thoracic Society, described the improvements as good news for patients with lung conditions, particularly those with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “Self monitoring is the key to managing chronic lung conditions, and this is a part of it,” he said.

The changes have also been welcomed by the British Lung Foundation. “We’re delighted that the government has improved the pollution indices,” said spokeswoman, Michelle Di Leo. “Let’s hope that making more detailed information available now adds to the pressure to do something about [pollution].”

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