Dirty Air and Fat Make Asthma Worse

Asthma symptoms worsen in older adults who are obese or exposed to air pollution

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Environmentalists are not the only ones that should be concerned about air pollution. Asthma patients and their doctors also should be worried, as dirty city air may make asthma worse.

Older asthma patients who are obese or exposed to traffic pollutants (e.g. car exhaust) may find it harder to control their condition.

"Stay indoors during high traffic hours if you have asthma."

Asthma is a condition that causes the airways to swell and narrow, making it hard to breathe. In many patients, asthma symptoms are triggered by allergies.

Findings from a study led by Tolly Epstein, MD, of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Cincinnati, show that obesity and air pollution can make asthma symptoms worse for many patients of the baby boomer generation.

"Obese patients aged 65 years and older are five times more likely than those of normal weight to not have their asthma well controlled," says Dr. Epstein.

She goes on to explain that patients with poor asthma control are more likely to have a lower quality of life and have a higher risk of emergency room visits, hospitalizations and death.

About two-thirds of asthma-related deaths occur in older adults. In the next 25 years, the number of older adults with asthma is expected to double from about 3.1 million to 6.2 million.

Obesity has been shown to make asthma symptoms worse in younger patients as well. The link between obesity and poor asthma control may be due to increased inflammation caused by obesity. The link also may be due to excess weight being placed on the airways.

Findings also show that obese patients are more prone to the negative effects of air pollution.

The study by Dr. Epstein and colleagues found that asthma symptoms worsen not only for those who are obese, but also for those exposed to traffic pollutants.

"The health effect of outdoor air pollutants on asthma in baby boomers as well as young children is substantial and underappreciated," says study co-author David Bernstein, MD, also of the University of Cincinnati.

"Asthma is a serious disease that, if not treated properly, can be life threatening. Asthma patients under the care of an allergist are shown to have better outcomes with controlled symptoms," he says.

In the study, exposure to traffic pollution was one of the strongest signs of poor asthma control.

The researchers are unclear as to why older asthma patients are more prone to the effects of air pollution.

The study, which included 104 asthma patients over the age of 65, was funded by the Center for Environmental Genetics, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and by a U.S. Public Health Service Grant.

The results are published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 5, 2012
Last Updated:
August 24, 2012