Air pollution and airway disease

Clin Exp Allergy. 2011 Aug;41(8):1059-71. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2011.03776.x. Epub 2011 May 30.


Epidemiological and toxicological research continues to support a link between urban air pollution and an increased incidence and/or severity of airway disease. Detrimental effects of ozone (O(3)), nitrogen dioxide (NO(2)) and particulate matter (PM), as well as traffic-related pollution as a whole, on respiratory symptoms and function are well documented. Not only do we have strong epidemiological evidence of a relationship between air pollution and exacerbation of asthma and respiratory morbidity and mortality in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but recent studies, particularly in urban areas, have suggested a role for pollutants in the development of both asthma and COPD. Similarly, while prevalence and severity of atopic conditions appear to be more common in urban compared with rural communities, evidence is emerging that traffic-related pollutants may contribute to the development of allergy. Furthermore, numerous epidemiological and experimental studies suggest an association between exposure to NO(2) , O(3) , PM and combustion products of biomass fuels and an increased susceptibility to and morbidity from respiratory infection. Given the considerable contribution that traffic emissions make to urban air pollution researchers have sought to characterize the relative toxicity of traffic-related PM pollutants. Recent advances in mechanisms implicated in the association of air pollutants and airway disease include epigenetic alteration of genes by combustion-related pollutants and how polymorphisms in genes involved in antioxidant pathways and airway inflammation can modify responses to air pollution exposures. Other interesting epidemiological observations related to increased host susceptibility include a possible link between chronic PM exposure during childhood and vulnerability to COPD in adulthood, and that infants subjected to higher prenatal levels of air pollution may be at greater risk of developing respiratory conditions. While the characterization of pollutant components and sources promise to guide pollution control strategies, the identification of susceptible subpopulations will be necessary if targeted therapy/prevention of pollution-induced respiratory diseases is to be developed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / genetics
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / physiopathology


  • Air Pollutants