UK & World News
Smog Health Problems Spark Leap In 999 Calls
Paramedics say they have seen a rise in the number of patients with breathing problems, as record levels of air pollution lead to warnings about exercising outdoors.
London Ambulance Service said it had received 14% more 999 calls from people with asthma, lung problems and heart conditions, while West Midlands Ambulance Service confirmed it had experienced a noticeable spike in emergency calls.
A poll of asthmatics by the charity Asthma UK also found about a third had suffered an attack as a result of the smog, while 84% had used their blue reliever inhaler more often than usual.
During the day, air pollution levels were "very high" (the highest on a scale of 1-10) in London and the South-East and "high" elsewhere including East Anglia, the Midlands, and Yorkshire and Humberside.
The pollution reached record levels in Harrow, northwest London, and Rochester, Kent.
Public Health England has advised adults and children with lung problems, as well as adults with heart conditions, to consider reducing strenuous physical exercise, especially outdoors.
However the situation is expected to ease on Friday and into the weekend as a change in wind direction will bring in cleaner air from the Atlantic.
Sky weather producer Joanna Robinson said: "Air pollution has been a big concern across England and Wales over the last few days, with some locations in the south-east reporting very high levels.
"To really improve the air quality we need a change in air mass and the arrival of lower pressure, which will help disperse the pollutants into the higher atmosphere.
"Thankfully, we'll see that change on Friday. South-westerly winds will develop, bringing in cleaner air from the Atlantic, but it may take some time for eastern England to see the effects.
"Overall there'll be improvements in the air quality going into the weekend, with just low levels of pollution forecast by Sunday."
The poor air quality is due, in part, to dust from the Saharan desert whipped up by a large storm in north Africa.
Some of the dust has appeared as red speckles on car windscreens and other outdoor surfaces after being deposited by rain.
However, many of the health fears surround particulates - the tiny chemical particles emitted by diesel-powered cars and industry that can be inhaled deep into the lungs.
Combined with other pollutants including nitrogen dioxide and ozone, these can cause breathing difficulties.
Asthma sufferers and patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), a condition which inflames the airways, are particularly vulnerable and may notice their symptoms get worse.
Even those without breathing problems say they have been coughing, wheezing or suffering with sore eyes.
Doctors at the Acute Medical Unit in Solihull, near Birmingham, told Sky News there had been a "slight increase" in the number of people coming to them with respiratory problems.
They include Jason Irving, who suffered an asthma attack and was receiving treatment at the unit.
He told Sky News: "I travelled into work as normal this morning and as I was walking in, my chest and my throat were tightening and I was struggling for breath.
"I sat down and occupational health at work had to call an ambulance. I think it could well be to do with the poor air quality."
Karen Lytton, a COPD patient who was also receiving treatment at the centre, added: "It's like when you hold your breath until you can't hold it any longer and then try to breathe again."
The effects of the smog have been felt beyond London, including in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, where a haze hung over the seafront.
Cyclist Karina Da Silva said she was worried about the impact the pollution could have on her health.
"It's odd because I can't see the sea. It's impossible," she said.
"My daughter says her eyes are very itchy and she coughed a little in the morning."
It is not just people whose health is affected by the pollution, with fears contamination may affect penguins at the town's Sea Life Centre.
Christine Pitcher, who helped empty, scrub and refill the animals' enclosure, said: "The penguins have quite delicate air sacs which is how they breathe and any bit of dust or debris on those can make them a little bit sick.
"Obviously we don't want that to happen, especially as we have a couple who are nesting at the moment."