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Traffic Air Pollution Impairs Lung Function in Children

Update Date: Oct 12, 2012 09:35 AM EDT

Starting from infancy to the initial few years of a child are very vital in determining the mental and physical health of the child for a lifetime.

A new study suggests that exposure to air pollution from traffic during infancy could hamper the lung function in children up to 8 years of age. The effect is particularly pronounced in children sensitive to common allergens or asthmatic, the study says.

"Earlier studies have shown that children are highly susceptible to the adverse effects of air pollution and suggest that exposure early in life may be particularly harmful," said researcher Göran Pershagen, MD, PhD, professor at the Karolinska Institutet Institute of Environmental Medicine in Stockholm, Sweden.

"In our prospective birth cohort study in a large population of Swedish children, exposure to traffic-related air pollution during infancy was associated with decreases in lung function at age eight, with stronger effects indicated in boys, children with asthma and particularly in children sensitized to allergens."

For the study, the researchers observed and studied 1,900 children, and followed them from birth till they turned 8 years old. In the duration of these 8 years, the researchers administered various questionnaires to the parents and conducted spirometry and immunoglobulin measurements.

Also, the researchers estimated the outdoor concentrations of particulate matter from road traffic in the residential area, daycare and school addresses of the children.

A 5th to 95th percentile difference in time-weighted exposure to outdoor concentrations of particulate matter from road traffic during the first year of life was associated with a reduced forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) of -59.3 mL (95% confidence interval (CI): -113.0 to -5.6) at age eight, medical Xpress reported.

This association was particularly seen in children sensitive to common inhalant and/or food allergens and among boy, apart from children with asthma.

The findings revealed that exposure to traffic-related air pollution after the child turns one-year-old, apparently causes lesser harm on subsequent lung function.

However, the study had certain limitations.

The calculation of the pollution was done only for the year 2004 and was extrapolated for the following years. Also, it was likely that the children's individual level of exposure differed and the pollution could have been miscalculated.

"Our study shows that early exposure to traffic-related air pollution has long-term adverse effects on respiratory health in children, particularly among atopic children," concluded Dr. Pershagen. "These results add to a large body of evidence demonstrating the detrimental effects of air pollution on human health."

The findings were published online ahead of print publication in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

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