Health on the Tube

The underground; so many people crammed so close together and so deep underground cannot be a very healthy situation, can it? The London Word’s resident doctor has the answers.

Can I catch a cold from a sniffling commuter?

Yes. The common cold is a droplet infection that is passed on by direct contact with nasal/oral secretions from an infected person. So if the sniffling person next to you sneezes or coughs without covering his or her mouth, it’s very likely that you’ll inhale lots of infected air droplets.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you’ll always catch a cold from a rough sneeze, but it is a very common method of transmission. Also watch out for passengers who sneeze into, or wipe their noses with, their bare hands and then hold on to the tube rails. It’s reported that the cold virus can live on surfaces for more than five hours, which means that you can catch a cold if you touch your nose, eyes or mouth after you have touched a germ-ridden railing.

I have to turn up my MP3 player to drown out the sound of the tube. Will this really affect my hearing?

Yes, although the amount of damage done to your ears depends on how loud the music is, how long you listen to it for and how often you do so. Deafness Research UK reports that MP3 player use is a commonly overlooked cause of hearing loss and offers four pieces of advice to minimise the risk of hearing damage:

  1. Only use your MP3 player at 60% of its maximum volume for 60 minutes a day.
  2. If you can’t hear noise around you, turn down your music player.
  3. If others can hear your music, it’s loud enough to damage your hearing.
  4. Choose noise cancelling or over-the-ear headphones. They may be more expensive than ear bud headphones (and a pain to carry about), but they are much more effective at drowning out background noise than ear bud headphones.

I’ve heard that all the dust and pollution in the underground can cause lung disease. Is this true?

No. This was a widespread rumour in the early Noughties. In fact, it was so popular that several years ago, researchers from the Institute of Occupational Medicine carried out a study to investigate. The study, which was published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2005, showed that although there are harmful particles (that can damage lung cells) in tunnel dust, the concentrations of these particles is too low to have a significant effect on the health of commuters or tube workers.

Tweet or leave a comment here with your London health worries to be answered next time.

Image by Justin MN courtesy of Flickr

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