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High levels of air pollution prompt precautionary health advice

PHE scientists issue advice for England and Wales affected by air pollution.

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In the last few days a combination of local emissions, light winds, pollution from the continent and dust blown over from the Sahara caused a spike in the UK Air Quality Index compiled by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

And those higher than usual levels of pollution may bring on health effects in some.

Dr Sotiris Vardoulakis, head of the air pollution and climate change group at PHE’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards said:

PHE provides advice to Defra on the health effects of air pollution.

While most people will not be affected by short term peaks in air pollution, some individuals, particularly vulnerable groups such as those with existing heart or lung conditions, may experience increased symptoms.

On occasions where levels are high, adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems, should reduce strenuous physical exertion, particularly outdoors, and particularly if they experience symptoms. People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often. Older people should also reduce physical exertion. Anyone experiencing discomfort such as sore eyes, cough or sore throat should consider reducing activity, particularly outdoors.

Some parts of the country have now recorded very high levels of air pollution. PHE is urging people in those areas, see for the latest UK maps, to reduce physical exertion, particularly outdoors, especially if they experience symptoms such as a cough or sore throat. Adults and children with lung problems, adults with heart problems, and older people, in areas where high levels are recorded should avoid strenuous physical activity. People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often.

For an explanation of what the pollution levels measured by Defra mean, and for what steps to take, visit the Defra website.

Photo by Tobias Toft. Used under Flickr Creative Commons

Published 2 April 2014
Last updated 3 April 2014 + show all updates
  1. Revised news story with additional information for changing pollution conditions.

  2. First published.