Air Pollution and Asthma Don't Mix

Exposure to pollution in womb dangerous for children with asthma

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

(RxWiki News) Pregnant moms, listen up: Stay away from areas with high air pollution. It can hurt your growing baby, especially if your child develops asthma.

A new study says that pregnant moms exposed to air pollution can hurt pulmonary function development in children with asthma.

The study is part of the Fresno Asthmatic Children’s Environment Study (FACES) – Lifetime Exposure Initiative, which looks at the effect of prenatal exposure of ambient air pollutants on lung function growth on children and teens in a high-pollution area.

"Pregnant moms should avoid high-pollution areas."

Recent studies have shown that prenatal exposure to air pollution can slow lung development in children and cause respiratory ailments, such as allergies and asthma. This latest study shows exactly how air pollutants can impact different aspects of lung function.

Lead study author Dr. Amy Padula, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues examined 162 asthmatic kids between six and 15 years of age and their moms.

They looked at the pollution concentrations of the geographic location where the mother lived during pregnancy, which were obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Aerometric Information Retrieval System, a computer-based system that tracks information about air pollution.

The team evaluated many pollutants, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and particulate matter, which is matter containing several small particles in the air, including acids, organic chemicals, metals and soil or dust particles.

The researchers used lung function tests to determine each child’s lung function growth. They employed spirometry, a technique that measures the volume and speed of air when it’s exhaled from the lungs. The measurements were adjusted for height, age, race and socioeconomic status, and the tests were performed separately for boys and girls.

Overall, exposure to nitrogen dioxide during the first and second trimesters was linked with lower pulmonary function growth in boys and girls.

However, exposure to different pollutants had different effects on the sexes.

For girls, nitrogen dioxide exposure during the first trimester resulted in lower FEV1 growth, which reflects the volume of air that can forcibly be blown out in one second. Exposure during the second trimester was associated with lower FEF growth, which reflects the flow of air coming out of the lungs during the middle part of forced exhalation.

For boys, nitrogen dioxide exposure during the first and second trimesters was linked with lower FVC growth, which reflects the volume of air that can be blown out after fully inhaling.

Particulate matter exposure during the first trimester was linked with lower FEV1 and FVC growth in girls, while similar exposure during the third trimester was linked with lower FEF and PEF growth – the maximal flow achieved when air is forcibly exhaled right after being inhaled – among boys.

The results of the study show that current air pollution levels continue to be harmful to human health, says Padula. “We need to do be doing a better job to reduce traffic-related air pollution.”

This study was presented at the American Thoracic Society 2012 International Conference in San Francisco and funded by the American Lung Association and California Air Resources Board.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 23, 2012
Last Updated:
August 10, 2012