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Asthma Awareness

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As of this year, air pollution is considered by the World Health Organisation [1] to be the greatest environmental risk to health, and it is estimated that 90% of the world’s population breathe polluted air every day. Microscopic pollutants in the air can penetrate respiratory and circulatory systems, damaging the lungs, heart and brain and prematurely killing 7 million people every year through conditions such as cancer, stroke and heart and lung disease.

A recent article in the Independent (12/03/19) quotes German research that doubles the previous estimates of annual deaths from air pollution – taking it to 790,000 in the EU (64,000 in the UK) – given that previous estimates had not properly accounted for cardiovascular disease.

Asthma is an especially significant factor in this wider picture, especially in Britain. UK asthma death rates are 50% higher than the EU average. [2] As worrying as this UK statistic is, representing an estimated four asthma-related deaths per day, we should be using it as all the more reason to engage with wellness initiatives that improve air quality. These can make a really substantial difference, and additional information on air quality can be found at www.air-quality.org.uk [3].

Occupational asthma: what do you need to know?
Occupational (or work-exacerbated) asthma information collated by the Health and Safety Executive [4] highlights dust, chemicals, cleaning and hair products, plus welding fumes, as significant triggers. These may not be especially relevant for most non-industrial employers, but that’s not to say it should be ignored. Issues impacting the work environment should be an integral part of your wellness strategy, and air pollution fits into this category.

Improving the work environment
A very interesting article by Cath Everett (Raconteur) about future workspaces and biophilic design [5] quotes research from the US Joint Commission finding that 40 per cent of all sickness absence is related to indoor air pollution or poor air quality. It also quotes Norwegian research saying that air quality can be significantly improved with indoor plants that absorb pollutants, toxins, mould spores and bacteria as well as volatile organic compounds in paint, furniture and carpets (reducing ‘sick building syndrome’ by a quarter). Plants also put water vapour back into the office, helping to reverse the impact of dry air – found in many buildings with central heating and air conditioning systems – that aggravates respiratory complaints and asthma.

More information is provided by the British Lung Foundation [6] and is a useful guide for employers and employees with asthma or other respiratory conditions. Decisions on the materials chosen for office furniture, paint, carpets and cleaning products may all be having an adverse effect on office air quality. The maintenance of air conditioning systems and addressing humidity issues (in the absence of plants!) are other factors to take into consideration.

Importance of exercise
Exercise is important for asthmatics (as it is for everyone!) but more care must be taken in hot weather conditions, especially with exposure to car fumes. Pollution from vehicles in the presence of sunlight creates ozone, which is very damaging to lung health; therefore, running in cites in hot weather is not recommended. Other forms of exercise may be a better option for asthmatics. Again, this is information that can be promoted through a wellness programme, as companies can help their employees find the form of exercise that makes most sense for them.

Managing asthma
For asthma sufferers there is excellent NHS support available, but it is essential to engage with it. This includes committing to asthma reviews at least annually, following advice and using inhalers as prescribed (as well as remembering to always keep them with you).

My asthma is well managed using a ‘preventer’ inhaler and a diffuser (a barrel-like tube that disperses vapour to enable more effective and deeper inhalation of the medication). To better understand the asthma management options available, you may want to read the information provided by Asthma UK’s very helpful page, “Your asthma action plan” [8].

Sadly, despite the medical resources and information available to us today, fatal asthma attacks do still occur. This is why education, diagnosis and careful management are essential for all asthmatics. Asthma Awareness Day can be an excellent means of expanding the range of issues on your wellness agenda: in addition to learning about the condition and related respiratory ailments, we can learn about the ways that improving our work environments can yield significant health benefits, beyond those directly related to asthma itself. Why not all do our bit to improve our respiratory health?

[1] https://www.who.int/emergencies/ten-threats-to-global-health-in-2019
[2] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/30/uk-asthma-death-rates-among-worst-europe/
[3] http://air-quality.org.uk/08.php
[4] www.hse.gov.uk/statistics - Work-related asthma in Great Britain – 2018
[5] https://www.raconteur.net/business-innovation/biophilic-design-office
[6] www.blf.org.uk/indoor-air-pollution .
[7] https://www.verywellhealth.com/exercise-with-asthma-200866
[8] www.asthma.org.uk

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