Air Pollution & Asthma

Pollution is a growing problem across the world, and the effects of air pollution on health – especially on asthma – are significant. Truck traffic, waste transfer stations, meatpacking plants, and sewage treatment plants are all common factors that contribute to the problem of pollution. For example, the South Bronx in New York City has very poor air quality and nearly 50% of children in the South Bronx have asthma, while the US average is around 10%, a striking difference.

A 2014 study published in the Lancet examined the implications of outdoor air pollution on asthma. In summary, the study cites decades of evidence that suggests that air pollution can cause exacerbation of pre-existing asthma, as well as contribute to new-onset asthma. One suggestion made by the study was for local governments to issue “smog alerts” on days when pollution levels are forecast to be high. This way, people with asthma and other respiratory issues know to stay indoors on these days. Additionally, the authors mentioned that avoidance of outdoor activity on poor air quality days can be added to a patient’s asthma management plan. Living near major roadways with heavy truck traffic may also exacerbate existing asthma or contribute to new-onset asthma, since the inhalation of tiny particles  from truck traffic may cause inflammation in the airways. If possible, living 1/5 of a mile away from major roadways can substantially decrease concentrations of these emissions.

Policy issues contribute to this problem as well, and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would have a major benefit in lowering air pollution, and subsequently asthma exacerbations. Continued efforts to and stricter control of air pollution at the level of the government will continue to improve pollution levels. However, newer technology is also needed to move away from fossil fuels and achieve good air quality. Persistent vigilance over air quality is one of many steps needed to ultimately reduce overall air pollution, and help decrease the rates of children who suffer from asthma. Please remember to consult with your child’s primary care provider if you have any concerns regarding their exposure to air pollutants.

To read more about the study published in the Lancet, please click here.

For a Real-time Air Quality Index Visual Map of your neighborhood, please click here.