Examining how asthma sufferers’ behaviour is affected by air pollution

New research from the University of Sterling has examined how air pollution impacts the lives of people with asthma in Scotland. 

7% of the Scottish population receive treatment for asthma and while there are various factors that contribute to the onset and exacerbation of asthma, air pollution has emerged as a significant environmental trigger.

The research consisted of semi-structured interviews with non-smoking volunteers between September 2021 and August 2022. These interviews were used to gain both retrospective and real-time accounts of participants’ experiences of air pollution. 

The researchers presented the results of these interviews four themes: Home is a safe space; Disconnection from air quality information; Behavior change ultimately depends on perceived controll; Clean(er) air is liberating.

Home was obviously a refuge for sufferers to hide from air pollution but depressingly, this was oftej visited on them by their neighbours:

… if they light that (pizza oven) I’ve got to shut every window in my house. (Participant 9, Female, 55–59).

I’ve a neighbor a few doors down who has a fire in his garden … I have to stay inside and shut all the windows when he’s got it on because once the smoke comes into my garden, and it just makes my chest congested and feels a bit wheezy. (Participant 13, Female, 45–49)

Others altered their behaviours in their homes to alleviate their asthma:

… something that affected my asthma is washing powder and softeners. So again, I use unscented washing powder. (Participant 19, Female, 55–59)

I avoid frying stuff now … (Participant 11, Male, 30–34)

Although people were aware of how to mitigate the effect of air pollution, they tended not to understand the problem itself very well.

I don’t know enough about it to be honest with you … if someone was to explain to me exactly what’s going on then I’d be a lot happier, I’d be a lot more knowledgeable and I’d know whether I could go to certain places or avoid, you know, avoid them, yeah. (Participant 28, Male, 60–64)

Others were aware of that air quality information existed but found it difficult to interpret it enough to act upon while another group ignored air quality information and ‘just got on with it’.

The new study comes after previous research by the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Natural Sciences found that better air quality monitoring is needed to assess the acute impacts of air pollution on people with asthma.

PhD researcher Amy McCarron who led both studies said: ‘While the physiological connections between air pollution and asthma have been extensively studied, this study sought to explore the nuanced perspectives, daily experiences and management strategies of individuals.

‘This research offers a greater understanding of the challenges faced by at-risk groups, such as individuals with asthma, in managing their condition relating to air pollution exposure.’


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6 months ago

Why do we have to talk about “asthma sufferers’ behaviour” as thiugh those with asthma are the problem? Isn’t it the behaviour ofd those with wood stoves, open fireplaces, cigarettes, and bonfires, whose behaviour needs to be examined? Isn’t the real challenge about how to get them to clean up, or stop, the air they are making? The article is rightly sympathetic to those with environmental-type asthma but does almost put the onus on them to find better ways to manage their asthma – when we ought to be thinking about stopping otheres from making the air bad in the first place?

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