Before you book that next trip, you might want to check the air pollution levels of the city you choose as your vacation destination. A new study finds that just a brief visit in cities with bad air can lead to breathing problems that may take at least a week to subside.
Researchers assessed the lung and heart health of thirty-four healthy young adults from New York City who traveled abroad for at least a week. Most of them visited family in cities with consistently high levels of air pollution, including Ahmedabad and New Delhi in India; Rawalpindi, Pakistan; and Xian, China.
Visiting a city with high levels of air pollution reduced measures of lung function by an average of 6%, and by as much as 20% in some people, according to the study led by researchers from New York University School of Medicine.
Participants who visited cities with high levels of air pollution reported as many as five respiratory symptoms such as coughing and breathing problems, while those who visited cities with lower air pollution levels had fewer or no symptoms.
Two patients sought medical attention because of their respiratory symptoms.
“We had several reports that tourists were feeling sick when visiting polluted cities, so it became important for us to understand what was really happening to their health,” senior study investigator Terry Gordon said in a university news release. He’s a professor in NYU’s department of environmental medicine.
“What travelers should know is that the potential effects of air pollution on their health are real and that they should take any necessary precautions they can,” said lead investigator M.J. Ruzmyn Vilcassim, an NYU postdoctoral fellow.
Travelers who visit cities with high levels of air pollution should consider wearing masks or consulting a doctor before departure if they have preexisting lung or heart problems, Gordon advised.
It might also be a good idea to avoid traveling to some locations during certain months. For instance, farmers burn their fields during the winter months in New Delhi, which increases levels of air pollution in the city, Gordon explained.
The findings were published May 30 in the Journal of Travel Medicine.
The American Lung Association has more on air pollution.