According to Tamara Krivskaya, healthcare providers play a significant role in teaching patients about the dangers of air pollution, but they are only one piece of the puzzle.
The Mayor of London stated in February that the NHS should increase its efforts to educate patients about the dangers of air pollution.
'Long-term exposure to air pollution can lead some people to acquire lung disorders such as asthma,' says Dr Andy Whittamore, Clinical Lead at Asthma + Lung UK and a practicing GP. It's also been connected to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia, as well as worsening mental health outcomes.
Air pollution is now considered the greatest environmental risk. According to new data from Asthma + Lung UK, 77 percent of people with asthma believe air pollution has an impact on their health and wellbeing, and 55 percent say they have trouble breathing when pollution levels are high.
Health professionals have an important role to play with their patients
Tanja Dalle-Muenchmeyer, Air Quality Manager at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, says while there are significant limitations to what doctors and patients can do individually, this does not negate the role of healthcare professionals, who still have a huge role to play in sign-posting patients with information about air pollution and limiting its effects on public health.
It's not about instilling dread in patients; it's about assisting them in understanding what steps they can take to decrease their own exposure and participation to the problem. This information must be provided in a way that empowers people.
Practitioners can provide a number of practical suggestions, such as urging patients with lung disease to use their preventive inhalers, HEPA-filtered air purifiers, and air monitors that check air pollution levels on days when they plan to be outdoors. Adults should also be encouraged to stop smoking indoors and to stop using wood-burning stoves, both of which contribute significantly to indoor air pollution.
Certainly, healthcare experts must be included in the approach to combating excessive levels of air pollution and the damage it poses to public health. They play an important role in alerting the public about the dangers of air pollution and the individual mitigation options available.
However, this is not enough in and of itself. Individuals can be limited by finances or access needs in what actions they are able to take, and healthcare professionals must take care to account for this in the consultation room.
Clean air zones, investments in green public transportation, and national public awareness programs all help to protect us from the consequences of air pollution. Healthcare workers are only one part of the puzzle.