You’re double-checking to make sure you have everything before you leave on a trip: phone . . . wallet . . . respirator mask? Even if you don’t have asthma or another pulmonary condition, it’s something to consider if you’re going to an area with high levels of air pollution.
Poor air quality is exceedingly common; the World Health Organization says 91% of the population lives in places where air pollution exceeds WHO guidelines. A 2018 report from the Journal of Travel Medicine says ambient air quality may affect “both the acute and chronic state of health of the traveler.”
This makes it important to research potential destinations as you craft your travel itinerary. Keep in mind that common wisdom might be outdated.
Here are some other steps you can take, in case the skies at your destination are not so friendly.
• Consider a different season: Pollution varies by season, depending on weather and the area you’re visiting. In New Delhi, for example, pollution rises in autumn and winter because of crop burning and India’s festival of lights — Diwali — which involves four nights of fireworks.
Indochina’s dry season runs January through April, which allows factory emissions, crop-burning smoke, exhaust and construction dust to accumulate.
Summer is traditionally wildfire season in the United States, but the U.S. Forest Service reports that climate change is making it a year-round issue.
• Consult websites and apps: The best air quality measure for travelers’ purposes, according to Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of national policy for the American Lung Association, is the Air Quality Index, or AQI. This system “considers all monitored pollutants, including ozone and particle pollution in the air,” Nolen says. It rates samples in one of five color-coded categories from “good” (code green) to “hazardous,” (code maroon), with instructions for each level.
• Bring a mask: While your destination may not have a high pollution rating, conditions can change in a hurry. For wildfires, Afif El-Hasan, a pediatrician and spokesman for the American Lung Association, recommends an N95 respirator mask — so named because it filters out 95% of test particles as small as 0.3 microns. On a heavy pollution day, these are a good bet.
• Check indoor air quality: When the air quality outside is bad, you want the air inside your hotel to be much better. Hotels are realizing that guests are willing to pay for perks designed to enhance air quality.
You can also use a portable air monitor such as the IQAir AirVisual Pro to check the quality of the air outdoors and inside.
• Curb outdoor activities: On bad air days, keep the exercise inside, El-Hasan says. If you’re planning a jog and the AQI rating is way up, hit the treadmill in the hotel. If you’ve scheduled a bike tour but conditions are bad, consider postponing or taking a tour in an air-conditioned vehicle. Minimize outdoor activity around high traffic or rush-hour times and when there is fire or other pollution-heavy conditions.
— Liz Langley, The Washington Post