Children are especially vulnerable to dirty air. But there are things we can all do to help.

What is air pollution?

Air pollution is an umbrella term for lots of different types of pollution in the air around us. All these pollutants can be inhaled and absorbed into your body. Different types of pollution are caused by different things, and can affect your body in different ways. For the most part, air pollution is invisible to the naked eye, so just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Air pollution comes from lots of different sources and can be found in both rural and urban areas.

Clean Air Hub leaflets:


Why it matters:

  • Air pollution affects you from your first breath to your last, as the damage to our health can start when we’re a baby and carry on through into old age.  
  • High air pollution is linked to low birth weight and can lead to premature birth and pregnancy loss.
  • Exposure to air pollution, both during pregnancy and after birth, can affect children’s lung function development.
  • Air pollution can move from your lungs into your bloodstream and reach many organs. It causes heart and lung diseases and may even contribute to mental health issues. 
  • Air pollution also potentially increases the risk of getting dementia.

How does air pollution damage my children’s health?

Children are still developing their organs and immune systems and their smaller bodies and airways make them especially vulnerable to dirty air.

Because of their size, children are also often closer to sources of air pollution, like car exhausts, than adults.

Air pollution can play a part in causing asthma for some children. For children who already have asthma, air pollution can increase how bad their symptoms are.

Being exposed to air pollution can also affect children’s lung function development. 

Research is beginning to point towards the effects of air pollution on children’s developing brains, but more research is needed in this area. 

Air pollution can affect your asthma in different ways. 

You may find that air pollution can make your asthma worse, making it more likely for you to have an asthma attack. Air pollution can also make you more sensitive to your triggers, such as pollen or exercise, making them more likely to cause an 
asthma attack.

There are long-term effects too; exposure to air pollution at a young age may contribute to the development of asthma in later childhood.

It’s important to be aware of air pollution levels and know what to do if the levels are high. The Daily Air Quality Index tells you about levels of air pollution and provides recommended actions and health advice.

The index is numbered 1-10 and divided into four bands, low (1) to very high (10), to provide detail about air pollution levels in a simple way.

You should follow these steps to use the Daily Air Quality Index:

Step 1:
Determine whether you (or your children) are likely to be at risk from air pollution. Children with heart or lung problems are at greater risk of symptoms. It is possible that very sensitive individuals may experience health effects even on low pollution days.

Step 2:
If you may be at-risk and are planning strenuous activity outdoors, check the air pollution forecast.

Step 3:
Use the health messages corresponding to the highest forecast level of pollution as a guide.

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Make travel choices for cleaner air. Simple steps can have a big impact on the air your family breathes.

Use people power

Walk, scoot or cycle to school as often as you can

Discover the side streets 

use quieter streets when you’re walking or on a bike to avoid the higher levels of 
air pollution on main roads.

Don’t idle 

If you have to drive, turn off the engine when you are not moving, and if it is safe to do so. Air quality can be worse inside the vehicle than outside. You could consider switching to an electric vehicle.

If your child has asthma, they are more at risk from poor air quality indoors, especially if they spend a lot of time at home. Many common indoor pollutants are small enough to get into the lungs and make your child’s asthma symptoms worse. 

Activities that can make the air quality in our homes worse:

  • Smoking
  • Cookers, especially gas cookers
  • Candles
  • Having a bath or shower
  • Air-drying clothes in the home
  • Open solid-fuel fires
  • Log burners
  • Free-standing gas heaters
  • Cleaing products, household sprays, aerosols and paints

  • Use fragrance-free, milder cleaning products
  • Avoid plug-in fragrances
  • Avoid aerosols and sprays
  • When decorating, choose safer paints and varnishes labelled ‘low VOC’ (volatile organic compounds)
  • Ask people not to smoke in your home. Cigarette smoke is a dangerous asthma trigger and it can also make you and your child more sensitive to other indoor triggers. Your local stop smoking service is free and able to offer support to help you stop smoking.
    • Help to stop smoking can be obtained from
    • Smokefree National Helpline (free): 0300 123 1044
    • NHS Smokefree App (free)
  • Reduce home burning as much as possible (e.g. log burners, coal fires or candles) - open coal fires can give off sulphur dioxide which can trigger asthma. Try using wood with a ’ready to burn’ symbol. Central heating tends to be cleaner, but can still give off some pollutants especially if its an old boiler or hasn’t been serviced for a while.
  • Service heaters, cookers and boilers once a year – they will be checked to make sure they are not giving out too many fumes.
  • Avoid gas cookers – they give off fine particles small enough to get into your lungs. Good ventilation in the kitchen is even more important if you have a gas cooker.
  • Tips when cooking to prevent moisture and condensation build-up.
    • Open windows
    • Use extractor fans - use the highest setting
    • Place the pan at the back of the hob when you can, as this works best with the extractor fan. 
    • Let the fan run for 10 minutes after you finish cooking

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Living in a damp, mouldy home is not good for your asthma. Babies, small children, older people and people with allergies are more likely to be affected.

Mould produces spores which can be breathed in. If your child is allergic to mould spores it could trigger their asthma symptoms.

Damp and mouldy housing can put your child more at risk of other things that can make their asthma worse like chest infections, colds and flu and rhinitis.

If you think your home is damp, or you’ve noticed mould, it’s best to act quickly to sort out the problem before it gets worse.

Deal with the damp
Find out what’s causing the damp, such as leaks, or condensation from cooking, showering or drying clothes indoors.

Don’t try and get rid of any mould by yourself if you have asthma that is triggered by mould. Get a mould removal specialist.

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If the mould covers more than a square meter or if it’s caused by problems with the building itself then you would need to get advice from a builder.

For more information on dealing with damp and condensation, click here.