How air pollution hits lungs

Published: Thursday 31 January 2008

doctors advise asthma patients against spending much time travelling. Now a London study has demonstrated how air pollution affects the functioning of the lungs in asthmatics in real-life conditions, not laboratories.

"For the first time we are able to measure exactly what's happening inside the lungs of people with asthma when they spend only a couple of hours strolling in a polluted area," said Fan Chung of the Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma at the Imperial College, London, who led the study.

Sixty people with moderate and mild asthma were asked to walk for two hours on Oxford Street where only diesel-powered buses and taxis run. The group was then asked to walk for the same period in a relatively cleaner Hyde Park.

The walk on Oxford Street induced asymptomatic but consistent reductions in the lung function. This was accompanied by increase in inflammation in the body. The study also revealed that the changes were associated with exposures to ultrafine particles and carbon, major components of exhaust.

Such measurements are important because they can help in assessing the effect of therapeutic strategies in asthma or other cardiorespiratory diseases, states the study published in the December 6 issue of New England Journal of Medicine.

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