Air pollution

How can I protect myself from air pollution?

On high pollution days, the best thing you can do to reduce your exposure to air pollution is to avoid main roads and busy streets where possible. If you have a lung condition or have children, this is even more important.

On days when pollution levels are low, you don’t need to be worried about going outside. Children shouldn’t be stopped from going to school or taking part in games. But even on these days, it’s a good idea to avoid spending long periods of time in places where pollution levels build up, such as busy roads – particularly if you have a lung condition.

As air pollution levels rise, people with lung conditions are at an increased risk of becoming ill and needing treatment. When levels are high, the government will issue an air pollution alert. If you or your child has a long-term lung condition, it’s sensible to take extra precautions on these high pollution days:

  • Reduce or avoid strenuous, outdoor exercise. If you have a lung condition, exercise has many benefits, so if possible, keep doing your exercise indoors in a well-ventilated room or gym.
  • Stay away from pollution hotspots such as main roads and busy road junctions.
  • Try to get to work a little earlier before rush hour has begun and levels of pollution have built up.
  • If you cycle, run or walk as part of your commute, use back streets away from the bulk of vehicle congestion.
  • Make sure you carry your reliever inhaler with you if you use one.
  • If you have asthma, use your preventer inhaler regularly.

If you find your condition is getting worse, or if you’re getting wheezy or coughing from walking outside, get in touch with your doctor.  If you’re out and about, you could also call into any chemist, where a pharmacist can also give you advice.

Anyone who experiences discomfort such as sore eyes, a cough or a sore throat should consider reducing their levels of physical activity outdoors.

Should I wear a face mask?

At the moment there’s very little evidence to recommend the use of face masks. Sophisticated masks with active charcoal filters can help filter out nitrogen dioxide, but these don’t keep out the smallest particulate matter which is most damaging to your health.

Also, many people find wearing a mask very uncomfortable, and some people with a lung condition report finding breathing more difficult when there’s something covering their mouth.

How do I find out about air pollution levels?

The UK-air website produces a daily air pollution forecast with a postcode finder service to monitor air pollution levels in your area. You can also get air pollution updates on the @DefraUKAir Twitter feed or by calling the Defra helpline on 0800 55 66 77.

Some areas of the country have local air pollution monitoring:


Northern Ireland

Greater London and South East England

  • airText offers free text alerts for London, Chelmsford, Colchester or Cambridge.
  • City Air app offers email alerts for London.
  • London Air monitors pollution levels across London and provides a mobile app.
  • airAlert offers free alerts for Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire and Sevenoaks.

In other areas of the UK, there may be a free air quality alert service provided by your local council or health authority. If you’d like to find out about air quality across the world, visit State of Global Air.

How can I help tackle air pollution?

Our campaigns team suggests:

If you want to find out more about what we’re doing to help tackle air pollution, visit our campaigns page.

Harriet, from our policy team, explains about diesel car emissions:

“Many diesel cars produce more nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter than petrol ones.

The extent depends on the age and model (Euro standard) of the car. On average, compared to the petrol model:

  • Euro 4 (2005) diesel cars produce over 3 times more NO2
  • Euro 5 (2009) produce 3 times as much
  • Euro 6 (2014) produce 25% more than their petrol equivalents

In 2016 a government report found diesel vehicles tended to have higher NO2 emissions in the real world, in some cases 10 times as high.”

If you have concerns or need advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

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Download our air pollution information (434KB, PDF)

Last medically reviewed: April 2017. Due for review: April 2020

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.