Posted tagged ‘child asthma’

Why’s there so much asthma?

January 17, 2013

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 She has also written a parenting book, see  Homemade Kids. More info at

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…

Quiz on mums, sport and air pollution

March 21, 2012

One out of 11 children have asthma. Here are two.

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. One out of 11 UK children have asthma. So what can a mum do to tackle air pollution indoors and out? Try this QUIZ and see how you do. For more info about parenting see my book Homemade Kids, or for my website click here 

If you need a reminder of what asthma does to kids, and how air quality effects children’s health see this older blog post and 10-year-old Nell’s video here.

Try this QUIZ – only 13 questions…
1 Indoor air pollution is increased by chemical fumes released from carpets, wallpaper, paint, fire-resistant materials and gas cookers. All build up in a well-insulated house. TIP: When you redecorate choose VOC-free (or low VOC) paints and glues which are easy to find in DIY stores (just look on the tin’s label).

[ ] a My house is drafty so I guess the pollution can drift off outside

[ ] b I rent and can’t redecorate – not my problem

[ ] c You mean volatile organic compounds? They’re on the naughty step.

2 Avoid anything made from MDF. TIP: Don’t put MDF shelves (or any glue mix material including plywood) above a radiator.

[ ] a Easier said than done. The kitchen’s MDF duh.

[ ] b Didn’t I tell you that I rent and can’t organise a kitchen refit?

[ ] c Does it tell me this at Ikea?

3 If you live and drive in a town or city use a petrol-fuelled car (or car club vehicle). TIP: Diesel isn’t as clean a fuel choice because the particulates released as you drive can trigger asthma attacks.

[ ] a Look I’ve got a diesel car and I’m not changing it. For anyone.

[ ] b I don’t remember this conversation at Car Supermarket.

[ ] c OMG what do paticulates do?

4 Obviously don’t drive as much – because all traffic pollutes. TIP: Aim to walk your children to school as many days as you can.

[ ] a You are one crazy lady. The roads aren’t safe enough for me to let my kids walk or cycle to school.

[ ] b Not got the time, sorry.

[ ] c Oh no, not blaming the school run again?

5 Teach your children road safety and look out for cycle training courses run for children, see

[ ] a You really are one crazy lady. See above.

[ ] b Don’t they teach this stuff at school?

[ ] c Not a bad plan.

6 Have a boy. TIP: Girls are more likely than boys to develop asthma by the time they are 18.

[ ] a Do you know how much IVF costs?

[ ] b What would Caitlin Moran say if I told her this?

[ ] c I’ve got daughters already, thank you very much.

7 Don’t live in the UK. Out of 56 countries the UK has more 13-14 year olds with asthma. TIP: You can get help from your GP and at

[ ] a How I long for the old days when mums just worried about OFSTED and SATs.

 [ ] b Great, just the excuse I need to move again.

[ ] c How will I cope with a mardy teen miserable about getting asthma?

8 Everyone with asthma is at risk of a wheeze attack when there is a spike in air quality. TIP: This isn’t just a western world problem – New Delhi is notoriously polluted and 16 out of 20 of the world’s worst polluted cities are said to be in China.

[ ] a This is just another reason to hate fog.

[ ] b Get it. Will cancel the trip to the Great Wall of China.

[ ] c I’m going to bookmark an air pollution app. Is there such a thing?

9 Get to know when air pollution is bad. Get 24-hour warning of pollution alerts at or if you live in London try

[ ] a Why is purple the danger sign? Shouldn’t it be red?

[ ] b At last I can use my screen grab to good purpose

[ ] c I’ve looked at the map, and it’s pretty bad everywhere.

10 Playing sport in the afternoon isn’t always wise – it can be a wheezy time if there’s high air pollution. It’s also the time when ozone levels are highest (which reduce lung function). Add to that pollen and it’s a recipe for those with dodgy chests (eg, asthma sufferers) to start wheezing. TIP: Avoid strenuous activity then, and learn to keep your medication close.

[ ] a Isn’t the Olympics held in the afternoon?

[ ] b Just the excuse I needed to avoid it, thank you.

[ ] c Is that why I keep hearing about sports people collapsing?

11 Good air quality is a right. Children competing in areas with poor air quality are much more likely to develop asthma than non-athletic children.

[ ] a What a load of lefty bananas.

[ ] b So tell me, are the London Youth Games at Crystal Palace in an area with poor air quality or good air quality?

[ ] c I’m starting to feel extremely worried.

12. When you’re not in a car use quieter, less congested roads and paths – even if it means a bit of a detour.

[ ] a Haha.

[ ] b Great excuse to wear my new blue suede trainers

[ ] c Do it already. Yes!

13 Don’t do what London Mayor Boris Johnson has done on super-polluted Marylebone Road and spray glue around in the hope that air pollution will be stuck together then disappear. It doesn’t work.

[ ] a Actually Spandex pants aren’t that great either.

[ ] b That’s a joke isn’t it?

[ ] c That’s it, I’m telling my councillors to do something in my local area.

Over to you – add what you got to the comment box. And thanks for joining in. Lots more info at

Mostly As
– I know what I’m getting you for your birthday, personalised number plates

Mostly Bs –  Perhaps you’ve got your head a little bit in the inhaler? Works better than sand though.

Mostly Cs – well done, you could help tackle this.

Why asthma makes me so angry

November 25, 2011

It's mum who wants to make a fuss about life not being fair for Nell,10.

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is a rage against the machine, for anyone who knows someone with asthma – or someone who won’t drive their car a bit less. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of  (much calmer) ideas about parenting, click here

From the Islington Tribune (25 November 2011, actual story here)
On Monday, Islington’s Green ­Party will reveal the full results of a survey it carried out along the A101 – Blackstock Road, Highbury Road and Highbury Grove – which showed that everyday pollution levels are 25 per cent higher than the EU safe ­limit, and in hotspots such as around ­Highbury Barn they are 75 per cent higher.

Readings at child height – as reported in the Tribune two weeks ago – are even worse.

I’m raging against the machine today. I’ve been an environmental campaigner for years. I even spent a decade working with Friends of the Earth, where we were taught if campaigners wanted to make the world a better place, then you better never get angry. If you want to win hearts and minds, then you need to be calm. Look your enemy in the eye, and answer rationally. Listen, laugh if you need to. But don’t get cross. Sometimes I wished I could get cross.

Well, that’s all changed now.

I’m furious about the air quality outside my house. Every single road I use. Every road you and I use is the same. Do you realise that pollution levels are 25 per cent higher try than the EU safe level on Blackstock Road, Highbury Road and Highbury Grove? Have you understood that it’s75 per cent higher at Highbury Barn? What does this mean – that I’m exposing my asthmatic 10 year old to the equivalent of smoking a packet of fags a day? Or is it worse than that?

That’s the same child that I worry about eating five veg a day, getting enough sleep at night, avoiding too much TV or sweets, or getting into the right school.

Asthma triggers are all sorts – perfume, cats, cold weather.  You can kind of avoid those.

I know carpets are a problem, the build up of chemicals indoors. So I’ve got smooth floors and windows that open.

But what if the asthma trigger is the actual air you breathe? What the heck can you do then? Does my child need a bubble helmet and a particle shield to be able to safely breathe?

Do you know how many people have asthma in London? Or Islington? Or your street?

I bet everyone knows a family who has been plagued by asthma. The stats say one in five children carry an asthma inhaler.

  • My daughter Nell needs a steroid dose to help her breathe – to stop her airways constricting and killing her. She needs it when she wakes up and when she goes to bed.
  • She’s probably going to be shorter.
  • She’s not going to be in the school sports teams.
  • Sometimes her asthma is so difficult to control she can’t actually talk very well. Silence = an asthma attack.
  • She was born in Islington.
  • She isn’t going to grow out of this.

Nell’s unlucky. But she’s not unique: 5.4million people in the UK are receiving treatment for asthma. That’s a big number. Only about 200,000 of us live in Islington – so that’s 27 Islingtons of people who can’t breathe too well.

Doctors don’t really know why asthma levels have exploded – but that’s because doctors will do anything not to blame something. Why is it that when you go into hospital with a dodgy heart and you die an autopsy goes ahead? Wasn’t the death kind of obvious?

Half of London’s pollution comes from transport. Doesn’t that say something screamingly obvious? If doctors just spelt out the obvious – and said look this level of air pollutants is crazy.  Imagine the doctors saying: “We are killing our youngest, most vulnerable people just because someone like their mum wants to drive to school or the shops.” Wouldn’t it help us all rethink how we get around Islington?

I don’t smoke because it’s expensive. And because I believe the doctors when they say it gives you cancer and heart and lung disease. Why can’t doctors be a bit braver and go on record. Why can’t they say to drivers that driving is cutting this child Nell’s life short just because someone wants to save a bit of time today, or hang outside the school gates with their engine running?

Why are we all being so well-behaved? We’re murdering our neighbours’ children, and our own children just because we will not get out of our cars, and Christmas is coming, so it’s all a bit difficult…

Every time you drive it’s making my child’s lung capacity – and her friends – another notch worse.

Now if I wasn’t being angry I’d say put your heavy goods into a bike basket, or a pannier or get a push along trolley. My family now has two trolleys we find it so useful. Use a buggy if you must. Or a wheelbarrow.

Instead I’m going to add a few particulates to the mix. If I ever see anyone sitting in a car with the engine running I’m going to wolf howl with despair. How can we do this to other people, let alone to our own families?

This study by Islington’s Green party has given us the figures everyone else wanted to hide. A bunch of mums and dads went out with a wet wipe and a few particulate readers. A few weeks later they came back with a shocking story. The soupy air quality on the roads we all use is likely to cut our life – my life – short by 11 years. Nell hasn’t even lived that long yet.

No wonder I’m angry. As they say in that famous Chinese proverb – be careful what you wish for.

Thank you to Islington’s Green party. For more details about the survey see at

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