Breathing pollution can negatively impact our health and ultimately there is no 'safe' level of air pollution. The health effects of air pollution depend on the amount of pollution that you are exposed to and the amount of time you are exposed for. Breathing in polluted air over a long period of time can increase the risk of heart and lung diseases (Asthma and COPD) and lung cancer. There is also evidence linking air pollution to increased risk of dementia, low birth weights and diabetes. Breathing in polluted air over a shorter period, can also lead to symptoms such as eye, nose, and throat irritation.
Who is affected?
In the UK, air pollution rarely rises to levels at which people need to make major changes to their habits to avoid exposure. However, air pollution affects people differently.
For healthy people, moderate air pollution levels are unlikely to have any serious short-term effects on human health. Yet exposure to higher levels of pollution and/or long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to more serious symptoms and conditions affecting human health.
Children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health issues such as heart or lung conditions (COPD or asthma) may be more negatively impacted by poor air quality. People who work in highly polluted places or regularly travel in or through polluted areas, may be at higher risk of air pollution-related health problems.
In 2021/22 there were approximately 46,000 Oxfordshire residents over 6 years old with asthma, and nearly 11,000 residents with COPD.
Further information on Oxfordshire’s Health Data and Wellbeing Strategy can be found at the following links.
- Oxfordshire’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, which includes local facts and figures on health and wellbeing
- Bitesize information on Air Pollution
- Latest Oxfordshire Director of Public Health report
- Statement on the evidence for the effects of nitrogen dioxide on health.
- ‘Fingertips’ – public health data collection
Short-term effects of air pollution on health
It is possible that some individuals may experience health effects even on low air pollution days. Looking at the Daily Air Quality Index can help you to understand air pollution levels and find out about recommended actions and health advice. The following links provide information about short-term effects of air pollution.
Long-term effects of air pollution on health
The following links provide information about long-term effects of air pollution.
Reducing exposure to air pollution
Indoor pollution can also be caused by solvents, poor ventilation and the use of wood or coal stoves. Find out what you can do to lower your exposure to both outdoor and indoor air pollution, including checking pollution alerts and signing up to text alerts on our personal actions page.
If you or people you care for experience breathing difficulties, caused by air pollution, make sure any medications (eg inhalers) and action plans include managing triggers such as poor air pollution.
Some people with asthma can have asthma attacks triggered by thunderstorms, possibly linked to pollen. Keep an eye on the weather forecast during warmer summer months when thunderstorms are more likely and when having a review with your health care practitioner, make sure you know what to do if your symptoms increase.
Reducing your contribution to air pollution
We can all make changes to our everyday actions and behaviours to reduce our contribution to air pollution. Our air pollution calculator allows you to find your air pollution footprint. Making these changes can also help you to reduce your overall carbon footprint.
To find out more about what you can do visit our personal actions page.