High levels of air pollution have been linked to spikes in hospital admissions due to breathing problems.
Researchers at Dundee University studied nearly 15 years of data for air pollution levels in Dundee, Perth and the surrounding area and matched it to the medical records of 450 patients who suffer from bronchiectasis — a long-term chronic condition similar to COPD which can cause a persistent cough and breathlessness, as well as frequent chest infections.
Professor James Chalmers, GSK/British Lung foundation professor of respiratory research at the university’s school of medicine, said the study suggested air pollution was having a major impact on the health of people with respiratory problems — and potentially the wider population
He said: “When we looked at these two sets of data side-by-side the links between the periods when air pollution is at its worst and when these patients are having to seek assistance is absolutely clear.
“We found that on days when air pollution spiked there was a large increase in admissions to Ninewells Hospital and Perth Royal Infirmary with breathing problems and visits to GP’s with breathing problems, known as exacerbations.”
He said impacts were worst in the summer, when hot, still days raise the levels of air pollution and people spend most time outside.
He added: “Our data suggests that a failure to tackle air pollution is having a major impact on the health of people with lung conditions and potentially the wider Tayside population.
“The patients we looked at, who all suffer from lung conditions, are to my mind the canary in the coalmine on this issue – they are the first and most seriously affected by air pollution but it can affect us all.”
Ian Jarrold, head of research at the British Lung Foundation, said: “It is well-known that people with lung conditions are the first to become breathless when exposed to air pollution.
“But, thanks to this study, we now know that there is a clear link between high levels of air pollution and increased numbers of patients with breathing problems at hospitals and GP surgeries. The additional costs faced by the NHS in treating patients with lung conditions due to high exposure to air pollution can no longer be ignored.”
The study was a collaboration between the research team at Dundee and environmental health experts from Belgium, funded by the British Lung Foundation and published in the European Respiratory Journal.
Some areas of the city, such as Lochee Road and the Seagate, have some of the worst pollution levels in the country.
West End Liberal Democrat councillor Fraser Macpherson said the study showed the need for action to be taken to improve air quality.
He said: “There has been some progress but it is just not happening at the speed one would like.
“The bottom line is we cannot have a situation where there is any possibility of people’s health being compromised by air pollution.”