Why’s there so much asthma?

This blog post is by Nicola Baird and her daughter Nell. It’s all about their dream to breathe in healthy air. Nicola writes a once-a-week blog about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children see https://homemadekids.wordpress.com. She has also written a parenting book, see  Homemade Kids. More info at www.nicolabaird.com

Nell sweeping the ground with a stick. For fun!

Nell sweeping the ground with a stick. For fun!

My youngest daughter Nell, 11, has been in hospital twice after her asthma got out of control when she was just 4 and again at 10. Without medication she would have died. Nowadays she takes a preventer puff of steroid twice a day, and when necessary will also take a puff from the blue reliever. She is surprisingly cheery about this, as you can see in this one minute video 

More than 1.1 million kids have asthma in the UK. No one knows why it’s become a national epidemic… but air pollution doesn’t help. The links between fossil fuels and climate change are well known – burning carbon (eg, in gas for central heating or to heat water; or when you drive a car) adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Driving adds other nasties too, including air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sooty particulates.

Not so lovely London
London’s air pollution is hideous. Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) on some of London’s busiest roads are currently over three times the legal limit. Given that, perhaps it is no surprise that the poorer you are in London the more likely you are to live by a massive road, and the more likely you are to die younger.

In December 2012 London Assembly’s health and environment committee pointed out that the long-term health impact of exposure to toxic air pollutants lead to life-shortening lung and heart conditions.

Right now there are more than 4,000 extra deaths each year in London from dirty air (particulates). This costs the economy a staggering £20 billion a year – twice the cost of obesity. Nell lives in Islington where about one in 15 deaths each year  (7.9 per cent) are “attributable to long-term exposure to current levels of anthropogenic particulate air pollution”. Yuck.

Don’t misunderstand: these statistics are not a reason for the lucky families who can buy or rent wherever they choose to escape to the country. They are a reason to ensure every child can breathe healthy air, wherever they live.

Clean up time
Air’s kind of invisible so it looks clean. But blow your nose at Holloway tube by the A1 and inspect the grimy contents or try taking a walk in white coat and gloves (ha ha!) and you’ll see evidence of some gruesome grime. Or just go talk to an asthmatic – anyone with lung disease actually.

Nell cleans up the pavement.

Nell cleans up the pavement.

“I can breathe. Right now I mean,” says Nell. “But I remember how I felt in hospital. Not being able to breathe feels tiring. You want to lie down. You’re all wheezy. And it’s hard to talk.”

When there’s a crisis families are too busy coping to be able to speak out. Nell and I worked on this blog post together when things are calm on the health front in a bid to get more families – from Mumsnet and other blog readers – to do something to tackle air pollution in 2013, the Year of Air. Here’s hoping you can help.

Here’s how to help

  • When you drive always turn off your engine if you are stationary or stuck in a traffic jam
  • Choose petrol over diesel
  • Avoid using your car as a shopping trolley. You could use a buggy, cycle paniers, a granny trolley (rebranded in our home as a “warrior trolley” so Dad doesn’t mind taking a spin to the shops) or opt for a supermarket home delivery.
  • Choose schools that are close to your home so the school run can be easily walked.
  • Sign up to the soon to get going Healthy Air Campaign to voice your support for government  action on air pollution. Some things can only really be effective if we do them together…
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13 Comments on “Why’s there so much asthma?”

  1. Karin Says:

    I think not using your car for shopping is a bit extreme, but to cut trips back as much as possible, i.e. weekly or monthly might be something more people would be willing to consider. It would involve a lot of planning, though and not everyone will feel able to plan that well. Delivery services help, but have their limitations. Will give some thought to what changes we can make. Whatever they are we’ll need to develop some new habits.

    • homemadekids Says:

      Hi Karin, you’re probably right about my suggestion about not using cars to shop. I often forget that (a) most people don’t have convenience shops really close to their homes – as we do in Islington and (b) that most people have cars, although my family doesn’t! Good point that sharing journeys (or even the task) might be more suitable. I guess I was thinking up ideas that might work for some people, who hadn’t thought of them as an option before. Nicola

  2. homemadekids Says:

    This link http://www.mumsnet.com/campaigns/links-to-other-organisations takes you back to Mumsnet as Nell’s video has been shared thanks to the Year of Air being made one of Mumsnet’s campaigns of the week. Nicola

  3. Karin Says:

    It is a serious problem, which needs a lot of ideas throwing at it and different ideas will work for different people. I doubt my reaction will be unusual for the majority of people, but afterwards I started thinking that perhaps over the next few months I could probably cut car use back a lot, even for shopping – with a bit of luck.

    There is a woman who lives quite close to me, who must be nearly 80 if she isn’t already. She walks down the steep hill to town to do her shopping and cycles to the next town/village to visit her daughter, not because she has to, she owns a car, is not too old to drive and can afford the petrol. She is just committed to things like Fairtrade and doing what she can for the environment. She should either shame us or inspire us into driving a bit less.

  4. Dr.S.Prokop Says:

    The notion that “air pollution causes asthma” (as opposed to merely bringing on an attack) is more contentious here than, say,The USA.I would just like to communicate a piece of research I saw a year or so back..now long gone from my hard disk.It showed that the numbers of ” precursor allergen recognition” cells was increased by air pollution.Such work in cellular biology is an important basis for further discovery.

    The other comment I would like to make is that the inflammation that underlies an asthmatic attack has a cell/hormonal component that is active for some 7 hours.On a typical summer day the morning rush hour particulate peak is still exerting its influence when it is followed by the pm ozone peak:

    http://noincineratorforcroydon.blogspot.co.uk/

    see particularly the Lethal London Levels graphs


  5. And I thought our air pollution was bad! Thanks for sharing the info about 2013 being the Year of Air. I need to find out more about what’s going on in this part of the world in relation to this.

    Thanks also for visiting my blog and hope Nell is okay. Our Pediatrician (the regular one we see) still doesn’t believe my boy has asthma. It was a different doctor who saw my boy and diagnosed his asthma (our regular doctor wasn’t available at the time). We have a stock of salbutamol and montelukast sodium at home just in case. We haven’t had to get the inhaler. My brother has asthma and I remember well how difficult it was while growing up, he did some time in the hospital, too.

    Thanks again.

    Warmest regards from the Philippines,
    Mary

    • homemadekids Says:

      Good luck Mary sorting it out. Nell spent three months in a sort of neighbouring tropical country to you – Solomon Islands – in 2011. She found the hot damp humid climate with sea breeze extremely good for her. But Honiara doesn’t have the same vehicle pollution as I imagine the Philippines urban areas must have. Nicola


      • No, I imagine not 🙂 This air pollution is one of the reasons we take to the coast every once in a while.

        We had a friend who’s young son contracted pneumonia three times within 3 months, it was like once a month he was in the hospital for about 2 weeks! So they moved out of the city to an island home. He rarely got sick after that.

        It’s not bad once you leave Metro Manila. More than 6 years ago a study made by the Asian Development Bank, located here in Manila, showed that air pollution limits in the city were about 50% over the recommended limits. And that was 6 years ago. There are more vehicles now so I can only imagine it’s only gotten worse.

        So it’s no wonder many of the kids and old folk get sick easily.

      • homemadekids Says:

        With that sort of pollution track record it seems amazing how reluctant the doctor you mention was about considering asthma. From what I understand doctors write death certificates to reflect what you died of, not what it was that wore your body out over a longer period of time resulting in your death. The trick is of course not to get paranoid else all the fun goes in life. I’m looking forward to hearing more posts from you about your tropical life in Manila. Nicola

  6. kneehighmum Says:

    Really interesting post. My eldest has asthma which started when she was 10 months old and we were living in Bath. She’s now nearly 11 and is so much better. Unlike Nell she has only been in hospital once when she was three which was very scary. We now live out of Bath in the countryside and on top of a hill. However I think Rosa’s asthma was more hereditary as her dad suffered from it and grew out of it as he got older which seems to be the case for her. But my youngest (aged four) had a mild asthma attack over Christmas which was a bit of a shock.

    • homemadekids Says:

      Hello Knee High Mum, I think living on top of a hill is definitely a plus but I’m in two minds about the countryside. Of course it is less clogged by vehicle pollutants (eg, diesel) but so much rape seed oil is grown (a horrible plant for many asthmatics) and so many UK crops sprayed so often that in the end it’s almost how one prefers one’s poison (everyday or an occasional dousing). So sorry to hear about your littlest getting asthma, what a relief that you know what to look for and probably how to help alleviate it. Good luck getting her healthy again. Nicola

  7. jlorenzo93 Says:

    When I moved to London 2 years ago the thing I was most impressed about was how dirty my contact lens were when I took them at the end of the day, it’s kinda scary when you think about the consequences that living in such a big city as London have in your health.


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