How to deal with air pollution in Beijing?
April 2, 2014 12:34 PM   Subscribe

I am heading to Beijing this month where the air pollution is notoriously apalling. Yesterday the air quality index reached a level which was double the level at which Salt Lake City doctors recently declared as a healthy emergency. Earlier this year it reached a level which was double that again. Does anyone have any tips about how to deal with this? Is there any evidence those face masks actually help? Any other contraptions or medication that help ward off the effects? I certainly won't be jogging outside.
posted by vizsla to Travel & Transportation around Beijing, China (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you there for a visit or a long period of time? A visit - where you stay indoors and don't go jogging - will be just fine, your lungs / body will recover just fine. It's long term effects which are of concern.

Particle pollution - especially fine particles - contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including:

premature death in people with heart or lung disease,
nonfatal heart attacks,
irregular heartbeat,
aggravated asthma,
decreased lung function, and
increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.
People with heart or lung diseases, children and older adults are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure. However, even if you are healthy, you may experience temporary symptoms from exposure to elevated levels of particle pollution. For more information about asthma, visit

posted by defcom1 at 1:15 PM on April 2, 2014

We dealt with this in Paris a few weeks ago. I arrived from the Riviera, where we have beautifully clean Mediterranean air, and promptly lost my voice. For two full weeks. I'm still recovering, nearly a month later.

What helped – staying indoors as much as possible, and taking asthma medication. Thankfully I had some on hand due to my pollen allergies (which hadn't yet kicked in, but I had prepared for). Also, religiously using a handkerchief when I needed to blow my nose. Yuck, I know, but really, if your body is telling you to get rid of snot with pollution at those levels? You get rid of it, out. Do. Not. Sniff. (Don't sniff it in. Blow it out.)

If I'd had a mask, I'd have worn it, proven usefulness be damned. God it was awful.

I also felt a hell of a lot better when I went back to the Riviera for a weekend, so if you can, schedule a day or two somewhere outside of Beijing. If you're only going to be there for a short period, then hopefully the pollution won't affect you too much.
posted by fraula at 1:17 PM on April 2, 2014

Best answer: I used to live in Beijing. I have also traveled to or lived in a number of other supposedly "polluted" cities (Bangkok, London, Toronto, Seoul, Santiago, Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York). There is no comparison. I've read that South Asia is as bad or worse, which I find hard to believe. Maybe I just don't want to believe it.

So, what to do about the horrific pollution?

First, do not live there. Just avoid doing that entirely, unless you are already a chain-smoker, in which case, carry on. As you haven't specified that you are moving to Beijing, I will give you benefit of the doubt and assume you have not made a horrible mistake.

Second, if you visit, do not exert yourself and try not to spend a lot of time outside on polluted days. You could get a mask. Not one of those hospital masks, though. They don't get the tiny particles that are actually dangerous for your health. Get one of those masks with an actual filter in it. You can buy sleek, sporty ones at some high-end bike shops in Beijing or on Taobao, and probably also in your home country. I am not even sure that being inside helps. You should try it anyhow. Just try not to breathe too much on the smoggy days. Do not exercise, because it is bad for your health (you breathe more). Get out to the hills to the west or to the Jinshanling section of the great wall for a respite from the pollution in low-lying Beijing. I've never heard of any pills that help with the pollution and would be skeptical of any that claim to.

Third, consume less. Our consumption drives this madness and the pollution is our fault, too.

Other than that, enjoy the city. And try the dumpling place on the west side of Maizidian, just west of Chaoyang Park and about 1km south of the American Embassy. The Campuses of Tsinghua and BeDa are beautiful this time of year. Temple of Heaven is always beautiful. Nanluguoxiang and Gulou hutongs are worth checking out.

The pollution over there gets some press, but not nearly as much as it deserves. Hundreds of millions of people are being made ill, millions will die prematurely. This is one of the worst tragedies of our time.
posted by the thing about it at 2:28 PM on April 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Mr Corpse just got back from Beijing. Our doctor told him that since he was only going to be there a week, not to worry about it (from a health point of view).
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:37 PM on April 2, 2014

I used to live in Beijing, for three years. Sometimes the pollution is horrendous but there are days when it's not that bad. If you are just visiting, I wouldn't worry about long-term health effects. You might want to get one of those filtered masks, though. It'd be a shame not to walk around Beijing because of the pollution, ( it's a fascinating city) but on bad days you may want to walk early in the morning or at sunset or at night. And you may be more suseptible to getting colds and infections. Beyond that, you basically should be fine- the really polluted days are no fun, but lots of people live there and deal with it.
posted by bearette at 6:38 PM on April 2, 2014

Amazon sells masks. You need to get the ones that are properly filtered for 2.5 particles - h95 I think. If you have a small face, size down. You'll need a fresh disposable every day or so. They can get hot wearing them and the more industrial bulkier ones are supposed to be actually more comfortable to wear. Pay attention to the readings, not what it looks like because the haze is bigger safer stuff than a clear-looking day can be. I wouldn't bother with a mask for under 150 readings mostly unless I had a respiratory illness or other vulnerability.

If you're there for a while in a hotel room, ask about their filtering system and if it really bugs you, you can buy a hepa-air filter about the size of a small heater and run it for your bedroom. They're $200-$800 depending on size and brand.

It's fine for a couple of days but if you are sensitive to pollution it can make you feel crappy fast. My kid at over 200 was red eyed and ill because she has slightly lousy lungs. Oh eye drops are very helpful.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:04 PM on April 2, 2014

I like these 3M masks -- they have an exhale valve that helps keep my glasses from fogging up, and they don't feel as hot and stuffy as the normal N95 masks.
posted by bradf at 8:33 AM on April 3, 2014

« Older Why does my hair get cleaner when I shower at my...   |   Feels like I'm 15 again Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.