Asthma Attacks

An Australian study into childhood asthma has sounded an alarm over city living, with even apparently safe levels of traffic pollution found to exacerbate the respiratory condition.

Researchers assessed the cases of more than 600 children and adolescents who between 2002 and 2006 were rushed to West Australian hospitals suffering a serious asthma attack.

Air-quality records for the period leading up to each attack were checked, and this revealed a strong trend of rising traffic-related pollutants ahead of each hospital trip.

Atmospheric levels of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide were often elevated on the day before a child suffered the asthma attack.

An epidemiologist at the University of WA, Gavin Pereira, said the study showed how traffic pollution was a major factor in the “worsening of this respiratory condition” in children.

There were other troubling implications, he said, as Australia had far more traffic-intensive cities than Perth and the effect was seen even as air quality was deemed to meet safety benchmarks.

“This study was conducted in Perth, Western Australia … pollution levels are generally quite good in Perth,” Mr Pereira told AAP.

“I’ve looked at studies from California, for example, and their pollution levels are much higher than here.

“And for our study to have observed an effect when we have met air-quality guidelines is quite remarkable.”

The effect was most pronounced in asthmatic children aged under four, according to the research as detailed in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

Mr Pereira said he hoped the finding would stimulate more research into this area, and it was too soon to suggest parents of asthmatic children consider moving to areas with less traffic.

“It’s not a cause for panic among parents, but policy-setters should be incorporating these sorts of factors into their decisions,” he said.

“For parents, traffic pollution is ubiquitous in an urban environment – it is essentially unavoidable.

“The message should go to our planners who might be building childcare centres and schools alongside roads, and children exercising by the street all the time.”

By Danny Rose (ninemsn)