Stay at home, stay safe and protect your neighbours' lungs

Zak and Dan in our policy team discuss how we can look out for each other by keeping the air clean.

Girl smiling with British Lung Foundation placard next to a road with air pollution

In the last few weeks, most of us have been clapping for health and care workers, helping our neighbours or practising strict social distancing. That's so we can come together and protect each other in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Social distancing means we're spending more time than ever in our homes. It's really challenging for a lot of us, and more so for people with severe asthma, severe COPD,  severe bronchiectasis or pulmonary fibrosis who have been asked to stay at home and shield from the outside world for at least 12 weeks.  

We're spending more time outside

At the same time, those of us lucky enough to have gardens might be spending more time outside, especially with spring and summer bringing nicer weather. 

The sharp fall in the number of people using most forms of transport means that the air we are breathing is now much cleaner. Because of this, some people living with a lung condition have reported that their symptoms have improved.   

People are starting to burn their garden waste

But we've also heard from people worried that their neighbours are starting to burn their garden waste or have bonfires. Our helpline has had lots of calls and emails from people who are anxious about how it's affecting their breathing.  

We've heard from people who have told us that since the lockdown, local refuse tips are closed and garden waste collections have stopped. That means that, unfortunately, more people are burning their rubbish at home.

It's a major risk for people with lung conditions

This smoke is a major risk for some people living with lung conditions. It can pose a real and immediate threat to their health and can lead to symptoms getting worse, flare-ups and even the risk of hospitalisation. 

Alongside this, there's emerging evidence about the links between air pollution and COVID-19. A study by scientists at Harvard University suggests that people who have been exposed to particulate matter over a long time have a higher chance of dying from COVID-19. There have been other papers from Italy and England showing a link between pollution and COVID-19 deaths as well. 

Of course, it's early days and the evidence isn’t comprehensive or clear yet. However, we do know that breathing in smoke and polluted air causes damage to the lungs and makes them weaker. 

We must keep the air clean

It’s crucial that, across all our villages, towns and cities, we keep the air clean so that people with lung conditions are protected. It's especially important that people who have been asked to stay at home 24/7 for their protection can open their windows or relax in their gardens and balconies without fear of a flare-up caused by inhaling smoke from their neighbours.  

So, if you're planning to burn your garden waste or burn anything at home, take a moment to think about how it might affect your neighbours’ lungs.

It’s so important that we all support each other to stay well and healthy at this time.


Find out more about air pollution on our hub. Living with a lung condition and want to share your story about air pollution? Email us at [email protected]


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1 May 2020