Air Pollution and Allergies: A Connection?
Alan Szeftel, MD, FCCP
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Does the "air we breathe" have an impact on the rising incidence of allergies and asthma? Hay fever was rare in Japan before World War II. However, pollen allergy is now common and mostly affects those living in Japanese cities and near highways. Allergic disease is also more common in highly developed countries in North America and Europe and less common in Third World countries. This suggests that there must be something about modern, urban life that promotes allergy. Let us examine the impact of air pollution.
By far the most important indoor pollutant is tobacco smoke, which is strongly associated with allergic sensitization, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses. Exposure to smoke results in the body's enhanced ability to produce IgE(the allergy antibody) that attaches to allergens (e.g. pollen, dust mites and dander). The IgE response is a key trigger of allergic reactions. Parental smoking increases the risk of their children having many respiratory illnesses, including bronchitis, chronic cough, and asthma.