Current Information on Air Pollution Risks in China

Air pollution levels in China can be a serious public health concern, both in the short and long term. In this health brief, we explain the major risks, as well as steps you and your family can take to decrease those risks.

Health Risks

Air pollution has multiple chemicals that can harm a person’s health, including particulate matter, ozone, oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, organic compounds and others. Particles smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) are considered the most harmful to your health because they get deeper into the lungs and can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Short-term effects of air pollution commonly include coughing, shortness of breath, eye irritation, headaches, nausea and dizziness. Vulnerable populations such as people with heart disease, asthma, emphysema, the elderly and small children are particularly susceptible.

Long-term effects include increased risk of heart disease, lung disease, and cancers. Children are especially vulnerable as their lungs are still forming until their late teens.

General Health Advice:

  • Air pollution contains pro-oxidant toxins, forming harmful free radicals in our bodies. To counteract this, it’s always important to stay healthy and keep fit, eat well and not smoke.
  • Indoor air purifiers, properly rated for HEPA filtration, can effectively reduce your indoor pollution over 95% if used correctly.
  • Indoor plants can help to lower indoor toxins, although with small benefit.
  • Exercising is still crucial for cardiovascular health, and on most days outdoor exercise is still more beneficial than harmful.
  • An N95 rated air pollution mask, such as the 3M series, is officially certified to filter out 95% of PM2.5 particles and thus is useful for decreasing exposure.

Health Advice During Emergency Days:

  • Any Air Quality Index (AQI) within the range of 200-300 or over is considered hazardous.
  • Avoid all outdoor activities if you can, especially with children.
  • If you must go outside, consider using a proper N95 rated mask.
  • Indoor air purifiers, HEPA rated, can be very effective, especially in your child’s bedroom. They should be turned up higher on these days.
  • Keep a watchful eye on your vulnerable loved ones: the elderly; infants; anyone with chronic lung disease such as asthma or emphysema; anyone with bad heart disease, especially previous heart attacks.
  • Anyone with these chronic diseases experiencing any sudden chest pain or shortness of breath should immediately seek medical help.

Tracking Air Pollution

There are several sources of air pollution data. In Beijing these include the hourly PM2.5 data from the US Embassy’s campus on East Third Ring Road, the Ministry of Environmental Protection Data Center and, in Chinese, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau. The most convenient way to access data from these sources is via the smartphone app CN Air Quality Index, which also has data for Shanghai and other cities.

If you feel sick and wish to see a doctor, our United Family Healthcare team is available for you. Simply go to our website,, and select the home page for the area closest to you, then find our ‘locations’ and contact information to call us and make an appointment.

We invite you to come and visit our UFH facilities to address your health needs.

Sources:, CDC China

UFH Patient Portal