Air Pollution Increasing Hospitalization Risk

Particle air pollution increases hospitalization for heart and lung disease and diabetes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) A long-term study of older adults has revealed that extended exposure to fine particle air pollution may result in an increased risk of hospitalization for heart and lung disease or diabetes.

Though numerous studies have examined the short-term impact of air pollution on populations, this study is the first to examine the long-term health risk.

Itai Kloog, lead author and a research fellow in the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, said the findings indicated that long-term hospital admission rates for pneumonia, heart attacks, stroke and diabetes are higher in locations with elevated long-term particle concentrations.

"Where you live does impact your health."

Investigators utilized prediction models based on satellite observations, emissions, traffic and weather data to predict levels of fine air particles in the New England area. Both rural and suburban areas were included. Those findings were then compared against Medicare hospital admissions records from 2000 through 2006. All patients included in the assessment were over the age of 65, and each was admitted to one of more than 3,000 New England hospitals by 2006.

Investigators then estimated zip code concentrations of fine air particle known as PM2.5, or air pollution particles less than 2.5 microns, thinner than a strand of hair. The particles come from sources such as power plants, soot from cars and wood burning. When the small particles lodge in the lungs they can cause inflammation in the heart or lungs.

They found a link between long-term exposure to air pollution and hospital admissions for all admissions examined. For every 10-µg/m3 increase in long-term exposure, the risk of respiratory hospital admissions increased 4 percent, while a 3 percent increased risk was found for heart disease.

Stroke admissions also were associated with a 3 percent hike. The greatest increased risk linked to air pollution came from diabetes, which was associated with a 6 percent increase in hospital admissions per each 10-µg/m3.

Investigators noted that air pollution remains one of the greatest avoidable causes of death in the U.S., especially since no lifestyle or behavioral changes are needed. Instead they urged technology at a modest cost to reduce pollution and generate positive health effects.

The study was published in the April 17 edition of journal PLoS ONE.

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Review Date: 
April 18, 2012
Last Updated:
April 23, 2012