A visit to New Delhi or Beijing for as little as a week can expose travelers to high levels of air pollution, a new study finds.
Researchers say that young, healthy adults traveling internationally may experience cough and breathing difficulties when they return home from smog-filled cities.
The lung function of some adults is reduced by no less than 20 percent.
But visitors to cities with low levels of pollution, such as London and Prague, experienced few to no symptoms.
The New York University School of Medicine team says it is important to reduce air pollution levels quickly because the number of tourists traveling abroad will be 1.8 billion by the end of 2030.
A new study from NYU Langone Health has shown that visitors to heavily polluted cities experience symptoms such as coughing and difficult breathing that took a week to recover. Pictured: low pollution hovers over Los Angeles, October 2017
& # 39; We had several reports that tourists felt sick when visiting polluted cities & # 39 ;, said senior researcher Dr. Terry Gordon, professor of environmental medicine at NYU Langone Health.
& # 39; So it became important for us to understand what really happened to their health. & # 39;
For the study, published in the Journal of Travel Medicine, the team looked at 34 adults between the ages of 18 and 29 traveling abroad from New York City.
None of the men or women had pre-existing health conditions and everyone was taught how to measure their lung function and heart rate themselves.
Pollution was measured by the levels of particulate matter in the atmosphere, which together form what we usually & # 39; smog & # 39; to mention.
Cities with more than 100 micrograms per cubic meter of fine dust were considered highly polluted.
Those belonging to this category were mainly based in East and South Asia and included Xian, China; Ahmedabad and New Delhi, India; and Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
Some places – such as Beijing and Shanghai, China and Milan, Italy – were only heavily polluted during certain months of the year.
Moderately polluted cities had between 35 and 100 micrograms per cubic meter and cities with little pollution had fewer.
The standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency is 12 micrograms per cubic meter.
Lower levels of air pollution were mostly found in European cities, including Prague, the Czech Republic; Copenhagen, Denmark; Reykjavik, Iceland; London, England; Oslo, Norway; San Sebastian, Spain; Stockholm, Sweden; and Geneva, Switzerland.
New York City also appeared to have relatively low levels of air pollution – partly due to strict regulations, its location on the east coast and weather patterns.
The lung function was reduced by six percent on average and by more than 20 percent in people who visited polluted cities, the researchers discovered.
Moreover, they reported up to five respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and difficulty breathing, while those who visited less polluted cities had few or no symptoms.
Dr. Gordon suggests that international travelers who visit smog-filled cities wear masks and avoid journeys during certain months.
For example, he advises against a visit to New Delhi in the winter months, because farmers stack and burn their crops, releasing more toxic particles into the air.
& # 39; What travelers need to know is that the potential effects of air pollution on their health are real and that they need to take the necessary precautions & # 39 ;, says Dr. MJ Ruzmyn Vilcassim, a postdoctoral fellow in the Environmental Medicine Department.
Although the participants recovered from their illnesses, the team says follow-up research is needed to study possible long-term effects or there would be a greater effect of longer stays.
Researchers are planning to study that are more vulnerable to harmful effects of air pollution, such as the elderly or asthma.
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