Air pollution during pregnancy and lung development in the child

Paediatr Respir Rev. 2017 Jan;21:38-46. doi: 10.1016/j.prrv.2016.08.008. Epub 2016 Aug 19.


Air pollution exposure has increased extensively in recent years and there is considerable evidence that exposure to particulate matter can lead to adverse respiratory outcomes. The health impacts of exposure to air pollution during the prenatal period is especially concerning as it can impair organogenesis and organ development, which can lead to long-term complications. Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy affects respiratory health in different ways. Lung development might be impaired by air pollution indirectly by causing lower birth weight, premature birth or disturbed development of the immune system. Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy has also been linked to decreased lung function in infancy and childhood, increased respiratory symptoms, and the development of childhood asthma. In addition, impaired lung development contributes to infant mortality. The mechanisms of how prenatal air pollution affects the lungs are not fully understood, but likely involve interplay of environmental and epigenetic effects. The current epidemiological evidence on the effect of air pollution during pregnancy on lung function and children's respiratory health is summarized in this review. While evidence for the adverse effects of prenatal air pollution on lung development and health continue to mount, rigorous actions must be taken to reduce air pollution exposure and thus long-term respiratory morbidity and mortality.

Keywords: air pollution; infant mortality; lung development; lung function; pregnancy; respiratory health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution*
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Child
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Mortality
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lung / embryology*
  • Lung / growth & development
  • Lung Diseases / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology*