By Joe Gammie, Press Association
Millions of visits to accident and emergency for asthma every year across the globe may have been triggered by polluted air, according to a study.
The research from George Washington University estimates that up to 33 million visits to emergency departments for asthma could have been caused by pollutants entering the lungs.
It is the first study to estimate the impact of air pollution on asthma cases across the globe.
Susan Anenberg, lead author and associate professor at the university’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, said policies to clean up the air could reduce the burden of asthma and improve respiratory health.
In particular, Dr Anenberg said targeting emissions from cars in big cities would not only aid people with asthma and other respiratory diseases but would help everyone breathe a little easier.
She added: “Millions of people worldwide have to go to emergency rooms for asthma attacks every year because they are breathing dirty air.
“Our findings suggest that policies aimed at cleaning up the air can reduce the global burden of asthma and improve respiratory health around the world.”
Asthma is the most prevalent chronic respiratory disease worldwide, affecting about 358 million people.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, suggests car emissions and other types of pollution may be a significant source of serious asthma attacks.
Dr Anenberg and her team first looked at emergency department visits for asthma in 54 countries and Hong Kong, and then combined that information with global pollution levels.
They said that nine to 23 million annual asthma accident and emergency visits – 8% to 20% of the global total – may have been triggered by ozone, a pollutant generated when car, power plant and other types of emissions interact with sunlight.
Researchers also estimate five to 10 million asthma emergency department attendances – 4% to 9% of the global total – were linked to fine particulate matter, small particles of pollution that can lodge deep in the lungs’ airway tubes.
The team said that around half of asthma emergency hospital visits attributed to dirty air were estimated to occur in south and east Asian countries – notably India and China.
Dr Anenberg said the study suggested that the impact of air pollution is much wider than heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer.
She added: “We know that air pollution is the leading environmental health risk factor globally.
“Our results show that the range of global public health impacts from breathing dirty air are even more far-reaching – and include millions of asthma attacks every year.”