In the News: Air Pollution Linked to Increased Risk of Autoimmune DiseasesAir contaminated by traffic fumes, dust, soot, and smoke may make you more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions, a new study suggests.
By Lisa Rapaport
March 17, 2022
Car exhaust and other airborne contaminants have long been connected to heart and lung ailments, as well as rheumatoid arthritis, an immune system disorder that causes chronic swelling and joint pain. Our own studies have shown the relationship with indicators of cognitive deficiencies in children.
In a study I reviewed, researchers from the University of Verona, Italy, reviewed medical records of over 81,000 elderly Italians treated by over 3,500 clinicians. They looked at the association between particulate of less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that can come from burning gasoline, oil, and wood. Particulate matter (PM) is also a term used to describe dust from construction, agriculture, landfills and wildfires.
They found that 12% of the patients had an autoimmune illness during the research and that pollution exposure enhanced the likelihood of this diagnosis. Each extra 10 mcg/m3 of average PM10 was related with a 7% increased risk of autoimmune illness.
The study revealed that in the study area the average yearly PM2.5 and PM10 exposure levels were 16 and 25 mcg/m3, respectively. The WHO recommends 25 mcg/m3 for PM2.5 and 20 mcg/m3 for PM10.
The study found that those with autoimmune illnesses had a 12-13% increased chance of being diagnosed with these diseases if they were exposed to levels higher than the WHO's guidelines.
The study shows that air pollution can contribute to autoimmune illnesses, says Luz Claudio, PhD, preventive medicine and public health professor at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine. In addition to the lungs, Dr. Claudio adds air pollution affects numerous other organs as well.
People can't escape filthy air, but they can lobby for stronger environmental standards, Claudio adds. They can also urge for greater monitoring of local air quality.
“Having a strong surveillance system in high pollution locations is quite important, especially for vulnerable individuals,” Claudio explains. “On polluted days, individuals should avoid outdoor activities.”
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.