Twenty-five million people in the United States have asthma, and that number is growing every year.
Research by the Allegheny Health Network is now underway that examines whether high levels of particulate air pollution in the Pittsburgh area are connected to an increased number of asthma attacks known as exacerbations.
Pittsburgh has taken great steps to move away from being one of the most polluted cities in the nation, but tiny fragments of pollution generated from the burning of fossil fuels called particulates still pose health problems for those with asthma.
Dr. Deborah Gentile, director of research of allergy and asthma at Allegheny General Hospital, said the study is a response to the large number of asthma patients in Pennsylvania.
“Pittsburgh is a hotbed yet for air pollution,” Gentile said. “Our air quality is improving, but we still have a way to go and we know that air pollution can trigger asthma.”
The American Allergy and Asthma Foundations ranks Pittsburgh as the fourth most challenging place to live with asthma, and the school districts of Northgate and Clairton are among the highest in number of asthmatic students.
Researchers will measure patients’ fractional exhaled nitrous oxide, an indicator of airway inflammation. The data collected will be compared to local weather and pollution information over the preceding week to show the relationship between airborne particulates and severe asthma attacks.
Over the next 12 months, 106 participants will be studied, with 40 patients suffering from acute asthma exacerbations.
While this kind of study has been done on a larger scale, research of this type has never been collected on a local level.
Results of the research will be used to determine the best treatments possible for people at risk of acute asthma attacks brought on by environmental factors.
Gentile anticipates the research will show a correlation between air pollution and asthma.
“We are expecting to see a relationship between asthma attacks and the airway inflammation on high pollution days,” Gentile said. “We do think a lot of that will be related to the fact that many people undertreat their asthma. So, if we can control their asthma better with medication that may help, as well as cleaning up the air.”
The study is funded by Breathe Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement Program, Health Research Formula Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.