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What the hell is 'London throat'?
Photograph: Shutterstock/Brian Minkoff

What the hell is 'London throat'?

Get to know the slightly ominous-sounding condition that's apparently giving us all the lurgy

Written by
El Hunt

‘London throat’? Sounds like a medieval disease

Actually, it’s a relatively new discovery. We’re a sickly bunch, what with our regular colds and black snot emissions, and now scientists at King’s College have found out why Londoners are prone to the lurgy: breathing in tiny particles from car brakes is weakening our immune systems. 

Oh great, another thing to worry about. How does that work?

Researchers think that one of the metals in brake dust stops our body’s macrophages from working properly. 


‘Macrophages are a form of white blood cell,’ explains Dr Nick Hopkinson, medical director at the British Lung Foundation. ‘Their job includes scoffing bacteria and producing enzymes and chemicals that break down things that cause infection. If they’re not working, that may translate into [us] being more susceptible.’

So basically, we’ll get ill more often?

Yep, sorry. Hopkinson explains: ‘It can make people more prone to getting coughs, colds, sore throats, runny noses as well as blocked noses.’

Should I be using a protective face mask?

Don’t bother, they’re not very effective. ‘Pollution is quite local,’ says Hopkinson. ‘Avoiding busy roads or walking on the side of the pavement further away from the road can reduce exposure.’ Better get used to taking the scenic route.

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