Smog

Maybe you’re on vacation in Beijing or Mexico City, or perhaps you just live in one of America’s smoggiest cities like Los Angeles, Baltimore or Houston. Whatever the case – you’re stuck in smog central. However, there are still things you can do to protect your lungs and minimize the negative effects of hazardous air.

Smog is a noxious combination of air pollutants made up of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the atmosphere, a side effect of urbanization and the industrial revolution. While all modern metropolises have some level of smog, conditions are worse in big cities that have large numbers of vehicles and warm, dry climates.

A serious public health issue, high smog levels contribute to all sorts of respiratory distress, irritation of the mucus membranes and depressed immune systems. Particularly harmful for children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with respiratory issues, smog can’t be avoided completely – but you can reduce its effects on your health by following these tips:

1. Avoid congested areas. If you bike or walk frequently in a big city, try to choose routes away from major streams of traffic whenever you can. If that’s not possible, try to avoid rush hour, which increases the immediate levels of smog and particulate matter than you inhale.

2. Stay indoors. Pay attention to the smog reports for your city, and consider staying indoors when the levels are high. If you usually exercise outdoors, plan for an alternative workout routine that you can do indoors on days when the smog is thick. Combining physical exertion with high smog days is always a bad idea – just ask anyone who works at an ER.

3. Wear a facemask with pollutant filter. They may look a little silly, but you’ll be the one laughing if you keep your lungs healthy and clear. Created for bicyclists, motorcyclists and others who commute in thick traffic, these urban masks (such as those made by Respro) offer a layer of physical and filtered protection from the pollutants in the air. If you don’t want to spring for a pricey filtered facemask, you can also wear a thin white carpenter’s mask (available at hardware stores) or even a bandana to reduce the amount of smog that enters your lungs.

4. Invest in an air conditioner. Single-room air conditioning units can cost as little as $150. In addition to cooling things down, they also remove humidity from the air and filter out pollutants. Keep your air conditioning unit as clean as possible, and run it on high smog days so that you can keep your doors and windows closed, providing a physical barrier to the smog.

5. Go someplace else. No one is really ever stuck anywhere. If you have asthma or another severe respiratory ailment and smog is negatively affecting your quality of life on a continual basis, consider moving to a new location where the air is fresh and clean. Just be aware that other climate conditions (such as extreme cold or damp, drippy weather) might affect your lungs just as much as smog.

Image: nicksarebi