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Air-pollution 'as harmful to health as smoking', say Spanish medics
AIR-POLLUTION caused by traffic and industry is as harmful to the health of people who live amongst it than smoking cigarettes, according to the Spanish Pneumology and Chest Surgery Society (SEPAR).
“Smoking is the third cause of death in the world, and air-pollution is the fourth; they go hand in hand,” says SEPAR environmental risks coordinator Dr Isabel Urrutia.
“If someone lives with air-pollution, the danger to their health is the same as if they smoked.”
Hospital visits and GP appointments tend to rise on days when smog levels are high, particularly among those with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), known colloquially as 'being broken-winded'.
For people who do not suffer any known condition, high levels of air-pollution in their immediate environment can have serious long-term consequences – in fact, it is one explanation for the increasingly-high number of cases of lung cancer diagnosed in non-smokers who are not exposed to passive smoking.
Pneumologist from Madrid's Gregorio Marañón University Hospital, Dr Javier de Miguel, says children and the elderly are most at risk from air-pollution since the formers' lungs have not fully developed, and the latters' defences are lower than in younger adults.
“In areas of high pollution – such as in certain countries – research has shown a higher incidence of lung cancer,” Dr de Miguel reveals.
People with no known respiratory conditions may, on days of high smog levels, suffer temporary symptoms such as stinging or itchy eyes and nose or a persistent cough, but they are not usually serious and tend to wear off once air-pollution levels settle down.
The use of masks – which is very common in large Asian cities in countries such as Japan, China, Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia, especially among walkers, cyclists and motorcyclists – is not really a great help, Dr de Miguel admits.
“People either don't put them on properly or, depending upon the particles they are trying to protect themselves against, the masks need to have a certain pattern, type and size of holes in them, so the wearer can breathe but the pollution particles do not seep in – and most do not have these,” the specialist explains.
“It's more a peace-of-mind effect than anything else.”
On high smog-level days, he urges the public to make as little physical effort as possible outdoors – exercise in the gym rather than running or cycling, avoid walking up hills or steps or carrying heavy loads – and to try to spend as much time out of town or in large, grassy park areas.
Windows and doors should be kept closed, and those with cardiorespiratory, cardiovascular or breathing problems should avoid going out if possible.
Cycling to work, for example, should be avoided at all costs in big cities with high pollution levels.
Madrid is one city in particular which is frequently affected by air-pollution and, once again, cars have been banned from the main urban 'almond' within the M-30 ringroad, except those used by residents.
This is a regular measure taken by the city council when smog levels become too high, in a bid to clear the air.
Valladolid, in Castilla y León, to the north of Madrid has applied a similar ban this weekend.
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