Air Quality Forecasts Are Important Health Information for Everyone

10.3.2021 Living with Asthma

Just like in many other European countries earlier, the end of February got Finland surprised with weird, brownish snow. The reason for this was sand, flying in the air all the way from the Saharan desert and finally landing with the snow, giving it the orange colour. The sand dust also made the air quality unusually low, considering the time of the year, which for example KAMU’s users could see in the air quality forecasts in our service.

Monitoring the changes in air quality is especially important for asthmatics and other lung patients, due to their possible symptom triggering effect. Yet, those with chronic lung conditions are not the only ones exposed to air pollution: it’s the same breathing air for all of us, and no one is safe from the impurities in the air. The illustration, originally published in See the Air air quality blog, shows just how deep different sized particles can travel in our bodies.

But what kind of disadvantage does exposure to pollution actually cause? Firstly, bad air quality increases the risk of several health problems, such as respiratory diseases, cancer and heart conditions. While they significantly weaken the patients’ quality of life, they are also lethal: according to the European Environment Agency (EEA), air pollution is linked to as many as 400 000 premature deaths every year in the European Union.

Naturally, regular and continuous exposure to pollution increases the risk of disease over time, but the disadvantages of bad air quality shows also in children and teenages. According to a German study, exposure to even low levels of air pollution in infancy can lead to reduced lung function in adolescence.

Finns are used to thinking that the air in our country is clean and bad air quality is nothing to worry about here. Yet, the air quality changes even in Finland and has an effect on our health: for example, many people tend to get symptoms in the springtime due to road dust, when the snow has melted away. A study by Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare found that on the days when the levels of road dust in the air are high, the Helsinki city employees have more sick days from work. This is especially true for tram drivers who are exposed to the impurities coming in from the tram doors during their work day.

Global warming and urbanization increase the amount of air pollution and it’s adverse impact on health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learned to use face masks to protect ourselves from the virus, but bad air quality should also be a reason to wear one. Air quality and air pollution exposure are also becoming more and more important information for anyone interested in their health. Avoiding the most polluted areas and planning outdoor activities for times when the air is cleaner, if possible, can help to reduce personal exposure to pollution.

KAMU Health Ltd and Helsinki city innovation company Forum Virium Helsinki are launching a trial in March 2021, where volunteers living in the Capital Region of Finland monitor their personal exposure to air pollution with KAMU’s service. The trial provides the volunteers with valuable information about how air quality affects their health. The trial is a part of the UIA HOPE air quality project. Enrollment for the trial is now open – join the Facebook event, read more and enroll!