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Both Delhi in India and Beijing in China are well-known for extreme air pollution which even goes so high that measurement devices are off the scale.

enter image description here Picture by Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier, flickr, 2001-01-12, CC BY-SA 2.0

The numerical values of pollution does not say how much it influences the normal traveller in activities when he/she visits such cities. Is it a minor inconvenience or are you literally choking? How about walking or sleeping during night? Is the effect tolerable for a short time, does it get worse or are you adjusting to it?

How do you prepare if you want to visit such cities? Do you buy face masks and do they work? Do you visit such cities even if you have already a respiratory problem?

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    friends of mine that were in Bejing for the Olympics said you always wear face masks outside. And you have to wash your clothes daily because of all the particles settling on it – marts Jul 1 '17 at 21:31
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    The air was white in color with very limited visibility last time I was in Beijing. It did not affect me noticeably and I didn't wear any kind of mask. High altitude seems to have more effect. Riding the old Chinese coal-fired steam trains seemed much worse aesthetically, maybe 40 hours for a long trip and you would blow your nose and the mucus would be black. I had childhood asthma and it can be triggered by things like solder flux fumes even today, but didn't notice anything with normal business and tourist activities. Some of the "pollution" in Beijing is a result of sandstorms. – Spehro Pefhany Jul 2 '17 at 13:22
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It depends of course on your personal health and reaction, but generally you get used to it within hours, and don't feel any effect. It will be always visible, of course, and often shockingly so, but most visitors feel no direct ill effects.

I have after some days a bit of itching in the eyes, but wetting them a dozen times a day with some water remedied that.

So unless you have asthmatic issues or other breathing issues, you should be fine. Any long term impacts are probably negligible unless you stay for many months.

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