Road traffic 'makes asthma worse'

22 August 2013 10:08

Traffic exhaust fumes are thought to exacerbate asthma through airway inflammation

Traffic exhaust fumes are thought to exacerbate asthma through airway inflammation

Traffic pollution and smoke from wood fire heaters has a significant effect on middle-aged people with asthma, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne claim symptoms worsen when sufferers are exposed to heavy traffic pollution or wood smoke, something which can become a problem at home and on holiday.

A group of 1,383 44-year-old adults were analysed in the Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study. They were surveyed for their exposure to the frequency of heavy traffic vehicles and the levels of ambient wood smoke in winter.

Sufferers who were exposed to heavy traffic pollution saw their symptoms rise 80%, while those exposed to wood smoke from wood fires saw an 11% rise.

Participants reported from between two to three flare-ups - called intermittent asthma - to more than one flare-up per week - severe persistent asthma - over a 12-month period.

Dr John Burgess of the School of Population Health at the University of Melbourne believes the findings may have particular importance in developing countries around the world.

Wood smoke exposure is likely to be high in the rural communities of such countries due to the use of wood for heating and cooking, while the intensity of air pollution from vehicular traffic in larger cities is likely to be significant.

Asthma affects more than 300 million people worldwide and is among the most common chronic health problems. As with any pre-existing condition, people heading abroad are advised to look out for their best interests and arrange pre-existing medical travel insurance before they jet off, or in this case, asthma travel insurance.

"It is now recommended that adults who suffer asthma should not live on busy roads and that the use of old wood heaters should be upgraded to newer heaters, to ensure their health does not worsen," added Dr Burgess.

"Clean burning practices and the replacement of old polluting wood stoves by new ones are likely to minimise both indoor and outdoor wood smoke pollution and improve people's health."

The findings were published in the journal Respirology.

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