Air pollution might hurt school kids' lungs

Allergy season is known to aggravate kids' asthma attacks, but other types of fine particle pollution in the air throughout the year also measurably affect children's lung function, sometimes dramatically, according to Taiwanese researchers.

Researchers found that schoolchildren on average had a smaller lung capacity, presumably due to inflammation.

In their study, Bing-Yu Chen of the National Taiwan University and colleagues followed 100 school-aged children, some with asthma or hay fever and some without allergic diseases.

The study

The researchers tested the youngsters' lungs once a month over a school year and collected data on several air pollutants, including fungal spores, ozone and fine particles less than 2.5 microns, which are often by-products of the burning of fossil fuels.

A 10-years-old's lung capacity is typically between 2 and 3L, but even a modest increase in fine particles in the air was tied in the study to a 0.16-liter decrease in the amount of air kids could take in. A similar effect was seen in the case of fungal spores, even after accounting for levels of other air pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide.

Effects of ozone

Ozone also affected the airways, but the researchers didn't find any increases in asthma attacks.

More specifically, they reported in Paediatrics, levels of particulate matter on the day before the lung function measurements was negatively correlated with forced vital capacity.

The fungal spore level was negatively associated with both forced expiratory vital capacity and forced expiratory volume in 1 second. Ozone was negatively associated with forced expiratory flow at 25%, 50%, and 75% of forced vital capacity, and average expiratory flow over the middle half of forced vital capacity.

The findings suggest that even without producing observable changes in asthma attacks or medication use, exposure to pollutants and spores could harm a child's lung function, the research team concluded.

(Reuters Health, February 2011)

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