Recommendations to reduce the health risks of air pollution

A summary of research published in the European Respiratory Journal

The evidence about the dangers of poor air quality is increasing each year. As we learn more about how harmful it can be, it has become clear that we need practical advice on how we can reduce our personal risk.

This article collects together the research published on this topic and provides recommendations on what can be done to protect our lung health from polluted air.

What did the study look at?

The authors conducted an in-depth search of the existing research on this topic using a variety of search terms. They then put together a list of recommendations based on what they found. The recommendations given are based on how strong the evidence is.

What do they recommend?

Recommendations to lower the risk of outdoor air pollution include:

  • Use active options for travelling, such as walking and cycling, instead of travelling by car or other motorised forms of transport. This is because high exposures to traffic-related pollution can occur within vehicles.
  • Choose routes that avoid busy roads. Avoid queueing traffic and opt for routes that have open spaces close to them.
  • Adjust driving style and car settings. This includes avoiding fast accelerations and heavy breaking and, in areas of heavy pollution, keeping windows closed and keeping the fan set to internal circulation only.
  • Pay attention to the air quality, particularly when exercising. Avoid areas of traffic and plan your activity based on air quality forecasts. Stop exercising if you have concerns about chest tightness or wheezing. If you choose to use a pollution monitor, check that it is accurate. The authors note that government-sponsored monitors are the most accurate.
  • Consider using a mask (N95) if exposure to high levels of air pollution are unavoidable, this should be discussed with your healthcare professional.

Recommendations to lower the risk of household air pollution include:

  • Use clean fuels to cook with, such as electricity, solar cookers, biogas (methane), or liquid petroleum gas (LPG), where possible. Houses should also be ventilated during cooking and efficient cookstoves used.

Recommendations to lower your own personal risk:

  • Look after your lung health – treat and manage any lung conditions you may have.

Why is this important?

These recommendations provide a list of practical things people can do to lower the risk of harm caused by air pollution. In the full article, the authors grade the recommendations based on the strength of the evidence – some recommendations have more evidence to support them than others. Nonetheless the authors believe that all the recommendations can have a positive impact as even the smallest amounts of air pollution can be harmful.

Read the original research paper:

Title: Personal strategies to minimise effects of air pollution on respiratory health: advice for providers, patients and the public