Nav: Home

International travelers experience the harmful effects of air pollution

May 30, 2019

Even a short stay for travelers in cities with high levels of air pollution leads to breathing problems that can take at least a week from which to recover, a new study shows.

Led by researchers at NYU School of Medicine, the study is the first of its kind, say the authors, to analyze pollution-related coughing and breathing difficulties, and recovery times upon returning home, in healthy, young adults traveling internationally.

Published earlier this month in the Journal of Travel Medicine, the finding is timely given that the number of tourists travelling internationally is expected to grow to 1.8 billion by 2030, according to the World Tourism Organization.

"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," says senior study investigator Terry Gordon, PhD, a professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine at NYU Langone Health.

For the study, researchers analyzed six measurements of lung and heart health in 34 men and women traveling abroad for at least a week from the metropolitan New York City area. Most were visiting family in cities with consistently high levels of air pollution, including Ahmedabad and New Delhi, India; Rawalpindi, Pakistan; and Xian, China.

Some destinations studied ? Beijing, Shanghai, and Milan ? are heavily polluted during certain months but have relatively cleaner air at other times. Other, mostly European, destinations such as Geneva, London; San Sebastien, Spain; Copenhagen; Prague; Stockholm; Oslo; and Reykjavik had consistently lower levels of air pollution. The research team noted that New York City has relatively low levels of air pollution, in part because of strict regulations, its location on the coast, and weather patterns.

Specifically, the study found that being in a polluted city reduced measures of lung function by an average of 6 percent and by as much as 20 percent in some people. Participants also ranked their respiratory symptoms from one (mild) to five (requiring treatment), reporting a cumulative average symptom score of eight.

People who visited the highly polluted cities reported as many as five symptoms, while those who visited lower pollution cities had fewer or none. Two patients sought medical attention because of their symptoms. The pollution levels of the cities studied did not make a significant difference in the blood pressure of visitors, researchers say.

All study participants had a normal body mass index (between 21 and 29 for men, and between 18 and 26 for women), and none had preexisting health conditions. Before embarking on their travels, all were taught how to measure their lung function and heart rate daily using commercially available spirometers (to measure lung function), wrist blood pressure monitors, and heart rate sensors. Researchers then compared the health data against levels of air pollution collected from local government agencies.

The researchers used international standards to categorize highly polluted cities as those having more than 100 micrograms per cubic meter of particulate matter (PM), or air pollution dust. Moderate pollution is anything between 35 and 100 micrograms per cubic meter of PM, and low pollutions levels are anything less than that.

"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," says study lead investigator M.J. Ruzmyn Vilcassim, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Environmental Medicine.

Gordon suggests that those visiting highly polluted cities should consider wearing masks or consult a doctor prior to travel if they have preexisting respiratory or cardiac health difficulties, and to consider avoiding travel during certain months. For instance, farmers burn their fields during the winter months in New Delhi, India, raising levels of pollutants in the city.

Although participants gradually returned to normal health, study investigators say there needs to be more follow-up research to know if there were long-term effects, or if longer stays would influence the pollution impact. Next, researchers plan to study international travelers who are more susceptible to the effects of air pollution, such as the elderly and people with asthma or heart conditions.
-end-
Funding for the study was provided by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grants ES000260 and ES007324, an Air Waste and Management Association 2017 Scholarship, and an NYU College of Global Public Health grant.

In addition to Gordon and Vilcassim, other NYU School of Medicine researchers include George D. Thurston, ScD; Lung-Chi Chen, PhD; Chris C. Lim, PhD; Eric Saunders, PhD; and Yixin Yao, PhD.

NYU Langone Health / NYU School of Medicine

Related Blood Pressure Articles:

Do you really have high blood pressure?
A study by researchers at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) shows that more than half of family doctors in Canada are still using manual devices to measure blood pressure, a dated technology that often leads to misdiagnosis.
Why do we develop high blood pressure?
Abnormally high blood pressure, or hypertension, may be related to changes in brain activity and blood flow early in life.
For some, high blood pressure associated with better survival
Patients with both type 2 diabetes and acute heart failure face a significantly lower risk of death but a higher risk of heart failure-related hospitalizations if they had high systolic blood pressure on discharge from the hospital compared to those with normal blood pressure, according to a study scheduled for presentation at the American College of Cardiology's 66th Annual Scientific Session.
$9.4 million grant helps scientists explore how cell death from high blood pressure fuels even higher pressure
It's been known for decades that a bacterial infection can raise your blood pressure short term, but now scientists are putting together the pieces of how our own dying cells can fuel chronically high, destructive pressure.
Blood pressure diet improves gout blood marker
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and reduced in fats and saturated fats (the DASH diet), designed decades ago to reduce high blood pressure, also appears to significantly lower uric acid, the causative agent of gout.
New tool to improve blood pressure measurement
Oxford University researchers have developed a prediction model that uses three separate blood pressure readings taken in a single consultation and basic patient characteristics to give an adjusted blood pressure reading that is significantly more accurate than existing models for identifying hypertension.
Blood vessels sprout under pressure
It is blood pressure that drives the opening of small capillaries during angiogenesis.
Better blood pressure control -- by mobile phone
An interactive web system with the help of your mobile phone can be an effective tool for better blood pressure control.
Time to reassess blood-pressure goals
High blood pressure or hypertension is a major health problem that affects more than 70 million people in the US, and over one billion worldwide.
With help from pharmacists, better blood pressure costs $22
A pharmacist-physician collaboration in primary-care offices effectively and inexpensively improved patients' high blood pressure.

Related Blood Pressure Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...