This recently published Cochrane review explores this question, and we sat down with the lead author of the review to discuss the review findings.
Tell us about this Cochrane review…What did you find out?
The main thing that we found out from this review is that we are really lacking evidence on the importance of different interventions to reduce the impact of air pollution on the health of individuals with lung conditions. As well as finding very few studies covering the topic to include in the review, the ones that were found all used different methods, which meant that it was difficult to combine them and derive conclusions from them. This was disappointing, but certainly not unexpected.
Can individuals looking to protect themselves from air pollution take anything from this review?
People living with chronic conditions (such as asthma and COPD) have real concerns about being exposed to air pollution and often ask what they can do to ensure that they protect themselves most effectively. Common questions we receive at the European Lung Foundation are about how to commute to work while avoiding exposure and the best time to exercise or go out walking. There are lots of common-sense suggestions and advice that we can provide them with, but it would be much more beneficial to have evidence-based recommendations. These evidence-based recommendations are also needed for healthcare professionals to ensure that they can best advise their patients when they see them regularly in their clinics.
There is little from this review that can really add to what we would already advise, but some studies did reinforce the tips we would currently give: for example using a mask or a lower pollution cycle route may reduce some of the physiological impacts from air pollution.
Given the studies you found and the challenge this presented in drawing any conclusions, what could helpfully happen next?
This review should be a call to action to individuals working in the field to carry out more studies looking at the health outcomes of people living with chronic conditions when using specific interventions to reduce exposure to air pollution – such as changing routes, using air quality indexes, masks etc. Larger and longer studies that recruit participants with pre-existing chronic conditions and that include patient-important outcomes (such as exacerbations, hospital admissions, quality of life and adverse events) are urgently needed.