Fox News Weather Center

How to offset negative health effects from urban air pollution

For tens of millions living in cities around the world, air pollution poses a slew of serious health hazards.

More than 80 percent of people in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed what the World Health Organization (WHO) deems safe.

Poor air quality can lead to the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, the WHO said.

Ozone pollution can constrict muscles in the airways, leading to shortness of breath and wheezing, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Long-term exposure has been shown to trigger asthma and may cause others to develop asthma, the EPA said.

beijing smog ap

In this Feb. 21, 2017 photo, a woman wearing a mask walks to a subway station during the evening rush hour in Beijing. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

However, there are some ways to combat the negative health effects.

Pollution levels are highest during busy times such as morning and evening rush hour. Avoid being outside during peak travel times, said Elizabeth Garland, MD, MS and associate professor at the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

It's especially wise to avoid exercising during these times or along busy roads.

"On the occasional days when ozone and particle pollution levels are extremely high all day, it may be prudent to avoid or reduce the intensity or duration of exercise," Garland said.

If exercising outdoors, morning hours are best, outside of busy travel times. Ozone levels are lower in the morning. Sunlight can also make ozone pollution levels worse throughout the day.

Garland recommended exercising in parks, wooded areas or less traveled streets.

"Reduce the amount of time spent outdoors, plan activities for morning or evening, perform less vigorous outdoor activities like walking instead of running and plan indoor activities," she said.

A diet rich in antioxidants can also offset some of the negative health effects.

"Some studies suggest a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may suppress some of the harmful effects of air pollution," Garland said. "Supplementation with antioxidants might modulate the impact of ozone exposure on the small airways of children with moderate to severe asthma."

Those with chronic cardiac and lung diseases, like asthma, should be extra cautious.

"Ozone is a known trigger for asthma exacerbation," Garland said.

Mortality rates are higher on high ozone concentration days. Babies and the elderly are also more susceptible.

As far as wearing surgical masks, Garland said they are not effective in filtering out small particulate matter.

Only masks issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health work to block those particles. However, they have to be fitted and are not effective if one has facial hair.

To check air quality levels in the United States, use the AirNow website.

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit

AccuWeather ready logo