Why I’ve decided it’s time to wear an anti-pollution face mask

Respro techno mask
I wore a face mask for the first time while cycling today.

I thought it was time to invest in something to protect my lungs after I read an article a couple of weeks back that suggested certain pollutants put cyclists at risk of getting chest infections. Suddenly a light bulb went off in my head. Ding!

I have had a series of chest infections — two alone this year — ever since I acquired pneumonia back in November 2006. I put it down to stress and a weakened immune system. But I eat well and exercise regularly, so how come I kept succumbing to upper respiratory tract infections? It puzzled me — and it puzzled my doctor.

Then I read a piece in the londonpaper on August 18 (sorry, I couldn't find a link online) which said that the most damaging pollutants, such as PM10s found in diesel exhaust, are so tiny that they travel straight into your lungs. Sometimes these particles are coated with further pollutants and once inhaled they inflame the lung tissue or air tubes.

A doctor quoted in the article said: "As well as causing chest tightness and breathlessness, this can up your chances of catching a chest infection."

I often experience chest tightness and breathlessness on my evening commute. I usually cough for a short period too. I suspected it was a mild form of asthma. Now I'm certain it's triggered by pollution.

Similarly, I often have a funny mucous-like tickle in the base of my throat of an evening and I had put this down to my system still getting over the pneumonia. But I haven't felt this tickle for about two months. Last week it returned, coinciding with my return to more regular cycling. Hmmm.

So I ordered a Respro Techno Anti-Pollution Mask online (£29.99) — I chose the one with the gold filter — and it arrived on Saturday. I was scared of using it, thinking I'd feel claustrophobic, but it wasn't too bad. The only problem I had was the resulting condensation on the inside of the mask and the heat: it gets bloody hot in there!

And, for the first time since I don't remember when, I arrived home tonight without wheezing or coughing. I think the thing might work!

Total distance: 12.26 miles | Ride time: 1hr, 12min and 55sec | Average speed: 10.66mph | Top speed: 16.6mph


3 thoughts on “Why I’ve decided it’s time to wear an anti-pollution face mask

  1. If it works for you, fine. But I’d rather put my faith in peer-reviewed journals than anything written in a tabloid paper.
    Like this one: The exposure of cyclists, car drivers and pedestrians to traffic-related air-pollutants, Van Wijnen/ Verhoeff/ Henk/ Van Bruggen, 1995 (Int. Arch. Occup. Environ. Health 67: 187-193).
    Stats from this are at http://karlmccracken.sweat365.com/2008/09/04/inside-the-car-your-own-private-pollution-zone/
    I too am susceptible to chest infections (pleural membrane infections are my speciality). The best advice I ever got was to watch out for colds, especially when they start to move from the nose to the throat. As soon as that happens, cut down on the aerobic / cardio exercise, because you’re just dragging bugs down into your chest.
    I would worry more about wearing the mask than not – any beginnings of an air-borne infection you may have get deposited onto the inside of the mask, which then gets damp and warm as you continue to breathe on it. Sounds like a nice little petri dish to me!
    Sorry if I sound negative – masks don’t sound like my kind of thing do they? So to balance things out, let me go back to my first point. If it works for *you* and does keep you healthy . . . stick with it.


  2. Buying a mask is easy, but making sure it fit is another story. If there is leak, the pollutants is likely to leak through easily.
    This is a sticky issue for a lot of institutes that require workers to wear protective mask.
    have you try TOTOBOBO? It has a transparent mask and checking the fit is easy…and has been tested by eco-cyclists using it to cycle through Asia including most polluted cities in India and China.


  3. Karl, interesting points. But I’m sick of breathing in that horrible black smoke that comes out the back of red buses, so will persevere and see whether it stops my throat tickle / cough / asthma.
    Unfortunately my chest infections don’t stem from colds, so I don’t actually get a “warning” — I simply develop a fever, a cough and then that’s me sick as a dog. This can all happen in the space of a couple of hours! Which makes me think the cause is something I have inhaled into my lungs — an irritant of sorts — rather than a cold/flu virus that’s moved into my lungs.
    totobobo, thanks for the link.


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