On World Asthma Day (5 May) the European Respiratory Society (ERS) has launched a new ERS position statement focused on asthma and the environment. The statement highlights the risks to the health of people with asthma that are caused by climate change, current opportunities for taking action to protect and improve the health of asthma patients, and the complex interplay between asthma management and the environment.
The statement has been developed and led by the ERS Advocacy Council and ERS Environment and Health Committee, with cross-disciplinary speciality input from ERS Assembly 5, Assembly 6, Assembly 7 and the European Lung Foundation.
Arzu Yorgancioğlu, Chair of the ERS Advocacy Council and Professor in the Department of Pulmonology at Celal Bayar University, Turkey, is a co-author of the statement. She said: “Asthma is a major noncommunicable disease that affects around 339 million people globally, and it is the most common chronic disease among school-aged children. Environmental risk factors that go hand-in-hand with climate change, such as air pollution and fluctuating global temperatures, directly impact the health of people living with asthma. This statement takes a holistic approach and offers recommendations on how to act now to tackle climate change, protect the environment, and improve patients’ and public health.”
The statement summarises the latest evidence in these areas and covers in detail:
- The harms caused by climate change to the health of people with asthma, including how air pollution and changing temperatures can worsen asthma and contribute to the development of asthma in later life. Air pollution presents a burden to asthma throughout the life course – from the prenatal period and early childhood, where asthma is the most prevalent chronic disease – to old age where cumulative exposure to air pollution over many years can cause new-onset asthma.
- ERS’s recommendations to fully utilise the European Union Green Deal through key legislative actions, such as: improving air quality by aligning with WHO recommendations; phasing out fossil fuels and reducing emissions and fuel use; utilising the circular economy to recycle inhaler plastics, and to improve fuel efficiency and ventilation in homes, as well as regulation of indoor pollutants; and striving for the most ambitious Zero Pollution Action Plan for Water, Air and Soil to maximise public health benefits.
- Certain inhalers used for treating asthma contain hydrofluorocarbon propellants, a powerful type of pollutant, leading to concerns about the impact of their use on the climate. The overall global warming potential contribution of asthma treatments needs to be reduced and a multifaceted approach, rather than simply focusing on the inhaler device, is needed. The statement emphasises the importance of patient safety and choice in this issue and highlights the opportunities for further innovations in asthma treatment.
- The concept of the “green asthma patient”; although the primary emphasis to tackle climate change must always be on regulatory action and legislative change, this concept introduces the ideal of a person with asthma who is supported by greener healthcare regulations to make conscious choices to reduce the environmental impact of their treatment without compromising their health.
Professor Yorgancioğlu added: “This ambitious European Respiratory Society position statement highlights the many co-benefits of making legislative changes aimed at tackling the climate crisis, as they have the potential to impact the health of Europe’s citizens directly and positively. Now is the time for policymakers and healthcare regulators to strive for more to ensure a more healthy and resilient population, environment and planet.”
To learn more about the ERS position statement on asthma and the environment, catch up on the ERS Vision Live: Asthma and climate change, which took place on 5 May.