Children Exposed To Particulate Matter Air Pollution Face An Increased Asthma Risk: Study

The findings of a new study highlight the risks associated with air pollution, indicating children exposed to particulate matter are more likely to develop asthma and persistent wheezing.

The study, conducted by researchers in Denmark, also found children were more likely to develop asthma or wheezing if their mother smoked during pregnancy or their parents had asthma. The findings were published August 19, in the journal The BMJ.

Researchers used data for Danish children born from 1997 to 2014, following children to determine if they were diagnosed with asthma onset and persistent wheezing from ages 1 to 15 years old.

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The study included data from air pollution measurements at the children’s home addresses, information on parental asthma history, maternal smoking, parental education and income.

The air pollution focused on measurements of particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5), a type of air pollution that is tiny and easily inhaled into the lungs and penetrates the blood stream.

Researchers measured exposure to PM 2.5, which is smaller than the diameter of a human hair and has been shown to have far reaching health effects, including increased risk of stroke after long-term exposure and increased risk of cardiac arrest after short-term exposure.

Roughly 122,000 children were identified as having asthma and persistent wheezing at an average age of 2 years old.

There was a higher likelihood of a child having asthma if the parents also had asthma or the mother smoked while pregnant. There was a lower likelihood of children having asthma or wheezing if the parents had a high educational level and high incomes.

The study highlights risk factors for childhood asthma and wheezing, which reach far beyond environmental such as air pollution and smoking in the home. The risk factors also include socioeconomic factors as well, such as lower education and income level which may play a role in risk awareness, healthcare access or even home address location.

According to a prior study published in 2014, researchers found indicated poor minority neighborhoods experience higher exposure to harmful air pollution, including particulate matter, than white neighborhoods.  It is more likely for industries that release high levels of pollutants to build factories near minority neighborhoods.

PM 2.5 is released from power plants, motor vehicles and domestic heating systems. Because the particles are tiny, it is easy for the pollutants to penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the circulatory system. One recent study indicated it can cause similar lung damage to that seen in daily cigarette smokers. Particulate matter air pollution leads to more than 30,000 deaths in the U.S. every year.

Even small drops in air pollution levels seen in some parts of the country that regulated pollution in the 90s were linked to fewer childhood respiratory problems, like asthma. However, recent changes to air quality standards enacted by the Trump administration have led to worsening air pollution levels across the country, a move that can affect thousands of children.

“While these findings need to be substantiated in future studies, these results suggest that further reductions in PM2.5 might help to reduce the number of children who develop asthma and persistent wheezing in highly exposed populations,” the researchers wrote.

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