Beijing is getting smothered in smog. Foreign media are quick to call it the “airpocalypse,” or days-long episodes of air pollution that paint the skies with unusual hues and shroud the city in toxic air. Right now the Chinese capital is experiencing its second smog in a span of just three weeks.

On the Air Quality Index, anything that registers a reading of above 300 is deemed “hazardous,” meaning it could lead to irritations as well as disease-triggering adverse reactions. By Tuesday evening in Beijing, the air reached 700 in some parts — close to a record high in the embattled metropolis.

In Beijing and Elsewhere

“On the streets, some people wear masks, but many don't. Middle-class Beijingers say they have air purifiers in their homes, but they complain to us that the smog is stopping them exercising outdoors, jogging or cycling,” shared Simon Denyer of The Washington Post, covering the situation this week.

He added that it’s even worse for the poor: street sellers had no choice but to peddle their wares, and street cleaners had to make do with the masks distributed by their work unit.

Last December, the thick smog in Beijing and Northern China occurring for days on end had disrupted flights, road traffic, and operations in many schools and factories.

Even Utah rolled in patchy fog and smog as 2016 drew to a close, with air quality in the Salt Lake Valley reaching “orange” level at some point and posing risks for sensitive groups. It’s dubbed the worst air during that season.

Smog: Health Dangers and Safety Tips

Smog is a form of air pollution that is a mixture of emissions, including industrial pollutants, car and other vehicle emissions, open burning, and incinerators. It contains a pollutant called ozone, elevated levels of which can have a range of negative effects on the lungs.

While common in large cities, those living in the suburbs should also be wary of its dangers, especially as they pass through metropolitan areas during their road trips or vacations.

Certain short-term health problems can result from smog exposure, although special groups — namely children, seniors, and individuals with respiratory illnesses — can be affected worse or differently. They include:

Coughing and throat/chest irritation: This irritation of the respiratory system can last a few hours after smog exposure, yet ozone can continue to pose risks to the lungs even after the symptoms go away.
Worsened asthma symptoms: High levels of ozone from smog can also trigger asthma attacks.
Difficulty breathing and lung damage: One may find it hard to breathe deeply when there’s smog, particularly after exercising. This is another effect of ozone.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the majority of the population should only be concerned [PDF] about smog once ozone exposure reached high levels. This makes it important to stay informed on ozone levels in one’s area, even when traveling.

As a form of precaution, one should:

• Limit outdoor activities if ozone levels are elevated.
• Perform gentler activities on smoggy days to lessen the risk of experiencing respiratory issues.
• Schedule outdoor activities for the early morning or evening when ozone levels are low.
• Help reduce ozone levels through driving less, carpooling, and making sure the lids of chemical products such as solvents and household cleaners are tightly sealed and evaporation is kept to a minimum.

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