Healthy millennials on city breaks suffering effects of air pollution

Even for fit and healthy millennials, a weekend away in air pollution hotspots such as Barcelona or Milan can lead to coughing and breathing difficulties.

These are the findings of a study from the NYU School of Medicine who analysed the effects of air pollution on healthy young adults who have travelled abroad.

For the study, researchers analysed six measurements of lung and heart health in 34 men and women travelling 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.

Milan train station.

Specifically, the study found that being in a polluted city reduced measures of lung function by an average of 6% and by as much as 20% in some people.

Participants also ranked their respiratory symptoms from one (mild) to five (requiring treatment), reporting an 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.

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.

Researchers say they plan to further study the effects of air pollution on travellers who are more susceptible to the effects of air pollution, such as the elderly and people with asthma or heart conditions.

M.J. Ruzmyn Vilcassim, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Environmental Medicine said: ‘What travellers 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.’

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