Two million lung disease patients notice symptoms improved thanks to cleaner air during lockdown

Alexandra Thompson
·3-min read
Asthmatic woman using inhaler standing in the street
Asthma patients have reported improvements to their symptoms. (Getty Images)

Nearly two million Britons who are living with lung conditions have seen their symptoms improve as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, research suggests.

The British Lung Foundation surveyed more than 14,000 people living with everything from asthma to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

One in six (16.2%) praised the fall in air pollution, with extreme restrictions forcing many to stay indoors.

When extrapolated out to the general population, around 1.94 million patients are said to be enjoying the cleaner air.

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One who is reaping the benefits is Paul, 14. The Liverpudlian was diagnosed with asthma when he was five.

“The difference is substantial,” he said.

“I walk out and I’m hit with clean air, which is like a utopia compared to before.

“There are still problems, but you can really feel the difference now.”

Paul, who has asthma, described the 'clean air' as a 'utopia'. (British Lung Foundation)

Twelve million people in the UK have been diagnosed with a lung condition.

Air pollution is a known trigger, causing flare-ups that can lead to hospital stays.

Pollutants have also been linked to heart disease, cancer and impaired development in children.

With fewer people driving and industries shutting up shop, nitrogen dioxide levels have fallen by around 40%.

Of the parents surveyed, just under one in five (19%) noticed an improvement to their child’s symptoms.

Paul’s mother, Sarah said: “Two out of my three boys have lung conditions. It has been remarkable to see the difference in them during lockdown.

“Paul has used his reliever inhaler a lot less and my youngest son’s constant cough is a lot less noticeable.

“This has been such a positive outcome from such a negative experience.”

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More than four in five (83%) of the parents think air pollution should be a priority for the government.

As officials work to ease restrictions, the British Lung Foundation and Taskforce for Lung Health are calling for a long-term commitment to reducing air pollution.

“Air pollution can increase your likelihood of getting a lung condition and cause lasting damage to children’s growing lungs,” said Zak Bond, from the British Lung Foundation.

“Now, more than ever before, we have all become aware of how important it is to look after our lungs and the government has a duty to ensure that as the country recovers from COVID-19.”

COVID-19 is the respiratory disease that can be triggered by the coronavirus.

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“We can continue to keep air pollution levels down – and keep pushing them lower – with the rapid introduction of clean air zones, support for public and active transport, and tougher air quality laws”, said Bond.

“We want to see the government commit to reaching the WHO’s [World Health Organization’s] guidelines for fine particulate matter by 2030 at the latest.

“For those most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, such as people with existing respiratory conditions, or those recovering from COVID-19, clean air is crucial for living well now, and in the future.”

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The Taskforce for Lung Health, a coalition of different organisations, is calling for a commitment from the UK to meet the WHO’s air pollution recommendations by 2030 at the latest.

Its chair Alison Cook said: “Children deserve to breathe cleaner air and to grow up in a country where their health is not put at risk by going outside.

“Air pollution causes harm to healthy lungs and exacerbates problems for those living with a lung disease.

“Our legal limits remain higher than those recommended by the WHO.

“The government has made commitments to reduce emission levels, but it must go further”.