Increasing levels of two different types of air pollution have resulted in higher rates of respiratory disease among elderly individuals, according to the findings of a new study, which even raises concerns about areas with generally low levels of pollution.
Researchers noted spikes in air pollution and long-term exposure of air pollution at low levels are linked to an increased risk of older patients developing acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
Past research has warned that air pollution is linked to the deaths of roughly 20,000 elderly Americans each year. Older people seemed to have a weighted risk; yet, other studies show more than 90% of the world’s population is affected by poor air quality.
In this latest study, researchers from Harvard Medical School analyzed data from more than 1.16 million hospital admissions of Medicare patients older than 65 from 2000 to 2012. Study authors analyzed air pollution data for more than 37,000 zip codes.
Researchers focused on patient exposure to two types of air pollution; particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) and ozone concentrations. PM 2.5 is a type of air pollution with extremely small particles that are 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair. These types of particles are easy for people to inhale into their lungs and respiratory systems.
The study noted that as levels of PM 2.5 and Ozone increased, the risk of hospitalization from ARDS among elderly patients also increased.
Long-term exposure to PM 2.5 and ozone in low pollution regions was also linked to increases in ARDS admissions among elderly patients. Researchers determined there were three elderly patient hospital admissions for acute respiratory problems in each zip code associated with long term pollution exposures per year.
The findings of the new study are consistent with other air pollution studies that have linked spikes in air pollution to increased risk of heart problems.
ARDS is a rapidly progressive respiratory condition that causes fluid to leak into the lungs, often making breathing difficult. It tends to affect critically ill patients and develops in patients with pneumonia, sepsis, traumatic injury, and aspiration.
The ailment also has a strong link to lung disease and has a 68 to 80% death rate in elderly patients. While it is very serious and can become life-threatening, it is highly treatable with an oxygen mask, ventilators, IV fluids, and medication to prevent blood clots.
While more evidence has indicated the impact of air pollution on lung health, few studies have focused on acute respiratory diseases and air pollution across large populations, like this study did.
Earlier this year a study warned reducing air pollution levels could save more than 153 million lives around the world. The report highlighted the need for drastic measures focusing on regulation and prevention.
The findings of the Harvard study were presented recently at the 2018 American Thoracic Society International Study in San Diego, and the research is considered preliminary until it is published in a peer reviewed journal.