Background: The worldwide increase in the incidence, prevalence, and severity of asthma may suggest that environmental factors play a role in these epidemiologic changes.
Objective: To examine the correlations between air pollutants, weather conditions, airborne allergens, and the incidence of emergency room (ER) visits of children with acute asthma attacks.
Design: One-year prospective study. Data of daily concentration of air pollutants, weather conditions, and selective airborne allergens were collected and compared with the number of ER visits of asthmatic children.
Subjects: 1076 asthmatic children (aged 1 to 18 years) who presented at the Pediatric ER between January 1 and December 31, 1993.
Results: Correlations between fluctuations in ER visits of asthmatic children and various environmental parameters were more relevant for weekly than for daily values. Emergency room visits correlated positively with concentrations of NOx, SO2 and with high barometric pressure; and negatively with O3 concentration and minimal and maximal temperature. There were no significant correlations with concentrations of particulates, humidity, or airborne pollen and spores. An exceptionally high incidence of ER visits of asthmatic children was observed during September. This peak coincided with the beginning of the school year and the Jewish holidays. The correlations between ER visits and the environmental factors increased significantly when the September peak was excluded, revealing that 61% of the variance in ER visits was explained by NOx, SO2, and 03 concentrations, 46% by weather parameters, 66% by NOx, SO2 and barometric pressure, and 69% by the combination of air pollutants and weather parameters.
Conclusion: The major factors found to be associated with ER visits of asthmatic children were high NOx, high SO2, and high barometric pressure. Negative correlation was found between ER visits of asthmatic children and ozone concentrations. The particularly high number of ER visits at the beginning of the school year and the Jewish holidays was probably associated with an increase in the number of viral infections and/or emotional stress.