The short-term effects of living in a polluted city are well documented. However, what’s less clear is the long-term impact air pollutants have on our health.

Invariably so, expatriates that ship out to a large city in China will experience air pollution. For some of us, the level of contamination is unlike any we’ve encountered before. Dr. William Chickering from Beijing’s United Family Hospital has suggested that some of the short-term effects of exposure to air pollution were sinus congestion, runny nose, tearing eyes or dry cough but that “the great majority of otherwise healthy people suffer no lasting harm, even with six years of exposure”. He believes that “only two groups seem to be at any risk for lasting harm. One is children, a tiny percentage of whom may develop asthma or suffer slightly retarded lung growth that would not have occurred in a cleaner environment. The other is people who appear healthy but who may have underlying coronary artery disease”.

There have been numerous reports in the news over the past few years linking air pollution to various ailments. A 2008 research team at the University of Calgary in Canada declared that pollution may increase the risk of appendicitis. Breathing in air pollution from traffic fumes can raise the risk of blood clots, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study that same year.

Dr. Andrew Ngai from St. Reiss Medical Center in Shanghai recently met with One World Cover and commented on the speculation behind the relationship between air pollution and an increased incidence of appendicitis and gall bladder stones. He personally had not heard of air pollution contributing to appendicitis, but he did consider that “if air pollution induces “toxic blood change,” it is possible that this could lead to damage to the blood vessels circulating not only the appendicitis but also to other parts of the digestive tract”. Similarly, Dr. Barre Sy at Hong Kong University Shenzhen Hospital stated that he too had “not heard [of pollution being linked to appendicitis] before”.

Dr. Ngai went on to say “the water quality that we drink in China is of an inferior standard and in the long run, poor water quality consumption may contribute to inflammation of the digestive tract including the appendicitis”.

Although there’s not much we can control in the external environment, solutions for improving air quality at home or work are available. Renaud Living, a lifestyle company originating in Canada, offers free air tests and assessments for residences and businesses. Click here for more information on receiving a consultation.

Since long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide is considered to be the among the most dangerous of pollutants, other than minimising time outdoors, many doctors still recommended wearing facemasks on the worst days. The N95 mask is a standout performer, filtering 95% of airborne particulates. Dr. Chickering accepts that wearing a mask can provide some benefit, but remains skeptical over their long-term impact: “Masks do help with the irritant stuff. They may even help with the irreversible-harm stuff, though probably not much.”

So, our advice at One World Cover in summary would be: limit your exposure to pollution as much as you can without hindering your professional or social life. On the really bad days, when you can instantly feel the effluence in your lungs, wear a mask. And, if you seek relief at home or the workplace, consider air purification.