Recently there was a study reported (Lancet Planetary Health) from the United Kingdom which is informative about the impact of traffic pollution and childhood asthma. While this study is in another country, the implications are international. The researchers found that 3 in 10 children (30 percent) of child asthma is in some part caused by traffic pollution.

This research reveals hundreds of thousands of cases of potentially fatal respiratory condition called asthma. Asthma is a condition in which your airways narrow and swell and produce extra mucus. This can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Asthma can be a mild persistent cough or can be a life threatening emergency. It isn’t clear why some people get asthma and others don’t, but it’s probably due to a combination of environmental and genetic (inherited) factors.

Nitrogen dioxide is a secondary pollutant formed mainly from fossil fuel combustion; traffic emissions can contribute up to 80 percent of ambient nitrogen dioxide in cities.

This reported study found that overall, 19 percent of new childhood asthma cases in Manchester, England and 29 percent in London, England, are attributable to nitrogen dioxide. Exposure to nitrogen dioxide, which is mainly emitted from road transport, appears to be a substantial risk factor for asthma. It’s thought that pollution from traffic damages airways, leading to inflammation and the development of asthma in children who are genetically predisposed to the condition.

The researchers said that 92 percent of cases of childhood asthma attributable to exposure to traffic pollution occurred in the areas with average nitrogen dioxide concentrations below the World Health Organization guideline of 21 parts per billion. In Galveston County the Air Quality Index measurements for nitrogen dioxide varies from moderate to good depending on weather and other factors.

The lead author, Dr. Ploy Achakulwisut, of this study says “Our study indicates that policy initiatives to alleviate traffic-related air pollution can lead to improvements in children’s health and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Attention to emissions from cars, trucks, boats, planes, and factories is important for our children’s health. Breathing toxic air is not good at any age. Stricter guidelines for emissions and stricter enforcement is strongly encouraged.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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