Prolonged cold symptoms could be reaction to Taiwan's air pollution: Doctor

Incessant cough and cold-like symptoms could be sign of reaction to Taiwan's air pollution: Physician

Polluted air around Chiang Kai-shek Memorial.

Polluted air around Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- As air pollution in Taiwan reached frightening levels over the past couple weeks, a doctor in Taichung told CNA yesterday (Nov. 14) that an increased number of patients believing they were suffering from an ongoing cold were actually asthmatics and allergy sufferers reacting to the spike in PM 2.5 in the air.

Chiu Chen-feng (邱振峰), Director of Thoracic Medicine at Feng-Yuan Hospital in Taichung, yesterday said that patients suffering from asthma and allergies exacerbated by the pollution have been streaming into his office in the past couple weeks complaining of symptoms they believed were caused by a cold. For example, Chiu said that he had a 31-year-old male patient surnamed Chung (鐘) who has been coughing for two months.

Chung complained of coughing constantly at night and found it difficult to sleep. After a medical examination, Chiu found that the man was actually suffering from an allergic reaction, caused by air pollution triggering his persistent cough.

Chiu prescribed Chung some allergy medication and suggested he wear a pollution mask when going outside. Chiu said that colds generally do not exceed two weeks in length and if, after that period of time, it has not gone away, then patients should seek medical attention.

Chiu pointing to an orange AQI alert for air that is "unhealthy for sensitive groups." ​(CNA image)

He said that the air pollution in the atmosphere is hard for people to escape, and the most worrying aspect is that the microscopic particles being inhaled into their lungs cannot be easily discharged, possibly resulting in an increased risk of cancer. Chiu said that, although larger dust particles can be coughed out of the respiratory tract, the tiny PM 2.5 particles cannot. Instead,the inhaled particles bind to the mucous membrane of the lungs and can even enter the bloodstream.

This penetration of PM 2.5 particles into the bloodstream can result in inflammation throughout the body, causing not only cardiovascular problems, but also worsen allergic symptoms. During days when PM 2.5 levels are higher, Chiu suggests that people reduce outdoor activities and wear pollution masks when they go out.

Chiu added that when using the pollution masks, wearers should confirm that a tight seal is made on the bridge of the nose and their cheeks. He said that if air is escaping in any part of the mask, it should be adjusted and tightened to improve its effectiveness.

He said that people should avoid wearing the same mask for several days, and should instead replace it with a new one. Chiu said that after wearing the mask, if users still experience coughing, chest tightness, watery eyes, and irritated skin, they should seek medical treatment as soon as possible.