How air pollution harms your health - and how to avoid it

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Health Assured team

23 February 2017

It can cause eye irritation, breathing difficulties and heart disease. Here are ways to limit the damage

  The European Commission has told the UK to clean up its air. Levels of nitrogen dioxide – which is linked to heart and lung disease and contributes to the early deaths of 40,000 people a year in the UK – are particularly bad. We’re not the only ones with filthy air; the five most-developed countries in the EU (Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK) are all in breach of the recommended limits and have been given two months to take action. Yet gone are the days of epic smogs, such as the great smog of 1952 that enveloped London in a thick fog for four days and killed an estimated 12,000 people. That crisis led to a new awareness of the dangers of air pollution and the need to protect our air with legislation. So surely our health is less at risk now?  

Does air quality matter?

Yes. Ambient (outdoor air pollution) in cities and rural areas caused three million premature deaths worldwide in 2012 – predominately in low- and middle-income countries. And the World Health Organisation (WHO) is confident that, if we reduce air pollution, it would cut rates of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, asthma and respiratory disease. Researchers at King’s College London (KCL) have recently confirmed that high levels of toxic air particles from traffic and combustion are associated with an increase in hospitalisations and deaths from heart and lung disease in children and younger adults.   But it is a huge task; in 2014, only 8% of the world’s population lived in places where the WHO air quality guidelines were met. The vast majority of us are breathing sub-standard air. Yet change is possible. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), between 1970 and 2015, there was a long-term decrease in UK emissions of all air pollutants (ammonia, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds, particulate matter and sulphur dioxide).   Excerpt from The Guardian Online, read the full article here.  


  Many smokers want to quit but aren’t sure about the best way to go about it. There’s lots of free support on offer and by using the support that’s right for you, you’ll be boosting your chance of quitting.  

Smoking support through your GP

Many people don’t realise that their GP can help them quit smoking. But your doctor can do a lot, such as enrolling you in a ‘stop smoking’ clinic and prescribing nicotine replacement therapy such as patches and gum, or stop smoking medication such as Champix.  

Support from the NHS Stop Smoking Helpline – 0800 022 4332 – Ireland call the HSE Quit team 1800 201 203.

  They provide excellent information and advice on the best way to quit. By discussing all the options available face-to-face you can be sure you’re giving yourself an improved chance of succeeding. So arrange to see your healthcare professional or local NHS Stop Smoking Service. It could set the wheels in motion for quitting smoking.  

What you may want to consider:

  • What are all of the treatments/options available to me?
  • What withdrawal symptoms may I experience?
  • What should I do if I slip up and have a cigarette?

Remind yourself of all the gains you make after stopping smoking:

  • After 2 days, nicotine is totally eliminated from the body. Your senses of taste and smell improve.
  • After 3 days, your breathing becomes easier as the airways begin to relax.
  • After 2 – 4 weeks, your circulation improves and you can walk and run more easily
  • After 3 – 9 months, your lung function improves by up to 10 %, thereby reducing coughs and breathing problems
  • After 1 – 3 years, your risk of having a heart attack is halved

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