Last updated on Jul 7th, 2020 at 02:38 pm

We take breathing for granted, but more people end up in the ER with breathing problems thanks to rising levels of air pollution

This is according to the largest U.S. study of air pollution and respiratory emergency room visits of patients of all ages for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and respiratory infections.

Children are particularly susceptible

“Previous studies of ER visits related to respiratory illness have shown that children are particularly susceptible to air pollution, but those studies were mostly confined to a single city,” says Dr Heather M. Strosnider, PhD, MPH, lead health scientist at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Environmental Public Health Tracking Programme (Tracking Programme).

Along with a team of researchers, Dr Strosnider looked at the data available through the Tracking Programme to look at the association between air pollution and respiratory ER visits across hundreds of U.S. counties.

Two of the important forms of air pollution

Ozone, the main ingredient of smog, and fine particulate pollution, microscopic particles that penetrate deep into the lung, are two important forms of air pollution in the U.S.

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40 million ER visits for breathing problems

The study looked at the levels of these two pollutants in 869 counties in the week prior to an ER visit for a breathing problem.

The study included nearly 40 million ER visits for breathing problems from the counties, which represent 45 percent of the U.S. population.

The researchers divided patients into three groups: children under the age of 19, adults under the age of 65 and adults over the age of 65. The study found:

  • An association between ozone and respiratory ER visits among all age groups, with the strongest association in adults under age 65.
  • Per 20 parts per billion (ppb) increase in ozone, the rate of an ER visit for respiratory problems increased 1,7 percent among children, 5,1 percent among adults under 65 and 3,3 percent among adults over 65.
  • Increased levels of ozone resulted in increased ER visits for asthma, acute respiratory infections, COPD and pneumonia. Overall the association was strongest for asthma among adults under 65.
  • An association was found between fine particulate pollution (PM2,5) and respiratory ER visits among children and adults under the age of 65, with the strongest association among children.
  • Per 10 microgram per cubic metre (?g/m3) increase in PM2,5, the rate of an ER visit increased 2,4 percent in children and 0,8 percent among adults under 65
  • Increased levels of fine particulate matter resulted in increased visits for asthma, acute respiratory infections and pneumonia

Dr Strosnider said that the study findings should guide efforts to protect those most vulnerable to air pollution.

“For example, we observed strong associations for ozone among adults under 65 and for fine particulate pollution among children. This information can be used by public health officials and governments to make important decisions about air pollution and respiratory health in our communities.”

Source: American Thoracic Society via

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