During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, pollution and poor air quality came under heavy media scrutiny. Despite the host city’s efforts, they could not cover up the thick smog that lingered over the Games. In fact, some American athletes arrived in Beijing wearing masks to protect themselves from dangerous pollutants.
According to some early reports, the amount of nitrogen dioxide in London is comparable to the level of nitrogen dioxide in Beijing. With the 2012 London Olympics underway and track and field events having launched this weekend, Health Talk wondered: “Will air pollution affect the athletes in the 2012 summer games?”
“Endurance athletes such as cyclists and runners are most at risk when pollution levels are high because they breathe harder and inhale more particulate matter,” said Mike Howell, M.D., assistant professor, Department of Neurology, University of Minnesota. “Further airborne pollution can trigger an asthmatic response with exercise (even among people without asthma). Acute airborne pollution exposure can also lead to impaired lung and vascular function.”
Although Howell believes there won’t be a huge effect on the athletes’ performances in the 2012 Olympic Games, there are some short and long term effects athletes will experience.
“The biggest short term effect would be an asthmatic attack for those sensitive to airborne particles. In the long term, athletes can experience a variety of pulmonary and health conditions,” Howell said. “To help limit some of these negative air pollution effects, if possible, athletes should train away from the polluted city (London) before a competition.”