Asthma Australia is taking a robust approach to bring awareness to deadly air pollution levels in Australia as today kicks off National Asthma Week.
‘Air Nutrition – you are what you breathe’ encourages Australians to think differently about what they are breathing in and the steps they can take to reduce air pollution for better health.
For many of the 2.7 million Australians living with asthma, peaks in air pollution can lead to an increase in asthma symptoms, coughing and wheezing, and an increase in hospitalisations.
In Australia, air pollution from coal-fired power is annually associated with low birth weight in 845 babies and over 14,000 children with asthma, according to a recent study published by Greenpeace Australia Pacific.
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 and they spend almost a billion dollars a year on bottled water,” Dr Blakey said.
“Many people are choosy about the thousand litres they’ll drink each year, but probably don’t pay much attention to the millions of litres of air they’ll breathe.
“If there were chemicals in tap water that caused disease, they would want to know about it.
“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.”
Peer-reviewed studies on air pollution impacts in Australia put the number of premature deaths from air pollution in Australia per annum at between 2,616 and 4,884 at an estimated economic cost of up to $24 billion per year.
The 2019-2020 bushfires smothered Australian cities in black smoke and the air well exceeded safe levels.
According to research published in the Medical Journal of Australia, those summer bushfires resulted in over 400 deaths from exposure to air pollution during the fires.
The fires also led to 1,300 asthma emergency department presentations and over 3,000 hospital admissions for cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.
Asthma Australia CEO Michele Goldman encourages 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.
Elliot is a freelance print and radio journalist with a passion for experimental radio fiction, podcasting and international affairs.