There is global concern regarding the harmful impact of polluted air on the respiratory health of patients with asthma.
Multiple epidemiologic studies have shown ongoing associations between high levels of air pollution and poor early life lung growth, development of allergic sensitization, development of asthma, airway inflammation, acutely impaired lung function, respiratory tract infections, and asthma exacerbations.
However, studies have often yielded inconsistent findings, and not all studies have found significant associations; this may be related to both variations in statistical, measurement, and modeling methodologies between studies as well as differences in the concentrations and composition of air pollution globally.
Overall, this variation in findings suggests we still do not fully understand the effects of ambient pollution on the lungs and on the evolution and exacerbation of airway diseases. There is clearly a need to augment epidemiologic studies with experimental studies to clarify the underlying mechanistic basis for the adverse responses reported and to identify the key gaseous and particle-related components within the complex air pollution mixture driving these outcomes. Some progress toward these aims has been made.
This article reviews studies providing an improved understanding of causal pathways linking air pollution to asthma development and exacerbation.
The article also considers potential strategies to reduce asthma morbidity and mortality through regulation and behavioral/pharmacologic interventions, including a consideration of pollutant avoidance strategies and antioxidant and/or vitamin D supplementation.