Ambient wood smoke, heavy traffic pollution debilitate asthma symptoms

Exposure to heavy traffic pollution or smoke from wood fire heaters can have more debilitating effects on asthma sufferers than previously thought.

According to the findings of a new study, chronic exposure to pollution from such sources can significantly worsen symptoms of asthma, an inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

The study is the first of its kind to study the effects of traffic pollution and smoke from wood fire heaters on middle-aged asthma sufferers.

The study
For the purpose of the study, researchers at the School of Population Health at the University of Melbourne looked at a cohort of 1383 adults, age 44-years, enrolled in the Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study.

The participants were surveyed about their exposure to smoke from wood fire heaters and traffic pollution.

Participants rated their exposure to frequency of heavy vehicles near home, frequency of intense traffic noise and the levels of ambient wood smoke in winter.

Participants also self-reported their severity of asthma based on the number of flare-ups or exacerbations in a 12-month period. The study defined exacerbations as two or three mild flare-ups or one or more severe flare-ups during a period of 1 year.

Researchers found that asthma sufferers who were exposed to heavy traffic pollution experienced an 80 percent increase in symptoms. Exposure to smoke from wood fires led to an 11 percent increase in symptoms.

“In middle-aged adults, ambient wood smoke and traffic pollution were associated with increased asthma severity. These findings suggest that avoiding or limiting exposure to traffic pollution and wood smoke may help to reduce asthma. Future studies to replicate this finding are recommended and should examine specific biological mechanisms for this effect,” study’s co-author, Dr John Burgess from the School of Population Health at the University of Melbourne said.

“These findings may have particular importance in developing countries where wood smoke exposure is likely to be high in rural communities due to the use of wood for heating and cooking, and the intensity of air pollution from vehicular traffic in larger cities is significant,” Burgess added.

The findings of the study are reported in the journal Respirology.