Here's what you should do on days when air quality is deemed hazardous or very unhealthy in your city, as it has been in New York.
How to protect against air pollution?
On days when air pollution levels are especially high, experts say the best thing you can do is stay indoors and reduce the amount of air entering your apartment or place of work from outside, according to a study published by researchers at Rutgers University in the US.
The Environmental Protection Agency in the US advises against using window air conditioning in situations when air pollution is caused by wildfires, as is the case in many US states now, because these units bring in the hazardous particles from outside.
Experts also suggest using air filters to clean air indoors.
Although some research is in the process on other medical interventions to protect against air pollution, it is still in the early stages.
What if I have to go outside?
Life goes on even when air pollution levels are high. If you must go outside, it doesn't hurt to wear an FFP2 mask (limited research suggests this could help protect you) and avoid physical exertion — this isn't the time to go for an intense run. You can also try to travel to and from work at hours outside the typical commuting times, when more cars are on the road adding their exhausts to the already polluted air, to avoid unnecessary exposure to pollutants.
Who is most at risk?
According to the Rutgers study, avoiding exposure to air pollutants is "especially important for susceptible individuals with chronic cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, children, and the elderly."
How long-term are these solutions?
The Rutgers researchers are quick to note that these are short-term solutions for days in which the air is polluted at a level that is considered hazardous for human health. None of these solutions work in the long term — people need to go outside to stay active and healthy.
"Careful consideration is especially warranted when interventions may have unintended negative consequences, such as when efforts to avoid exposure to air pollutants lead to reduced physical activity or when there is evidence that dietary supplements, such as antioxidants, have potential adverse health effects," they wrote.
This is why, they said, air pollution needs to be addressed at a systemic level — i.e. at the source — and will not be solved in the long-term merely by individual intervention.
Edited by: Carla Bleiker