You are what you breathe

Clean air: For many of the 2.7 million Australians living with asthma, peaks in air pollution like this can lead to an increase in asthma symptoms - like cough and wheeze. Photo: Shutterstock.
Clean air: For many of the 2.7 million Australians living with asthma, peaks in air pollution like this can lead to an increase in asthma symptoms - like cough and wheeze. Photo: Shutterstock.

People are being encouraged to learn about Air Nutrition this Asthma Week (September 1-7) under a new campaign launched by Asthma Australia and peak health and climate bodies.

"Air Nutrition - you are what you breathe" encourages us all to think differently about what we are breathing in and the simple steps we can take to reduce our intake of air pollution for better health.

Recent studies investigating the impact of air pollution on health indicate there is no "safe" level of long-term exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5) or nitrogen dioxide (NO2), pollutants commonly found in sources like woodfire smoke and vehicle emissions.

Asthma Australia Medical Advisor and Respiratory Physician Dr John Blakey said if you care about what you drink, you should care about what you breathe.

"Australians know where to get decent coffee, or a good wine. They spend almost a billion dollars a year on bottled water," Dr Blakey said.

"In contrast, we know that the chemicals and particulates in the air can cause asthma, infections, and cancer. We need to do more about that."

While COVID-19 restrictions have seen reports of reductions in some sources of air pollution, levels of woodfire heater smoke, hazard reduction smoke, dust and industry emissions have continued to tip the scale in normally 'clean' areas.

For the general population, exposure to air pollution has been linked to lower life expectancy, risk of premature death, and increased burden of disease. Poor air quality now causes more premature deaths than obesity on a global scale.

Asthma Australia CEO Michele Goldman encouraged people to start thinking about their Air Nutrition as a key part of a healthy life, especially for those with health conditions like asthma.

"This Asthma Week, we hope for everyone to start caring as much about the air they breathe as the food they eat, for their short and long-term health," she said.

"You can start small, like avoid busy roads when exercising or use an extractor fan when cooking with gas to learning how to stay safe when air quality is poor. These measures can go a long way in improving your Air Nutrition.

"When you consistently breathe in pollutants it causes irritation and tissue damage in your lungs and even other parts of our body. Many people with asthma are sensitive to this and know when pollution is in the air, whereas people who don't get symptoms may have no idea of the potential of its long-term impacts."

"Those most at risk from air pollution include people with asthma, respiratory and heart conditions, pregnant women, the elderly and young children."

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