Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 16 August 2009





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Stress Can Contribute to asthma in Children

Children in today's society are subject to a lot of stress that can lead to a whole host of ailments, which now includes the possibility of asthma. Living in households with a high stress level could put children more at risk for asthma that is associated with environmental triggers such as traffic-related air pollution and exposure to the smoke from cigarettes.

According to a recent study, children who had a regular exposure to the pollution from traffic exhaust and lived in households with the most stresses were approximately 50 percent more likely to develop asthma than those children living in low-stress homes. The study researcher, Rob S. McConnell, M.D., from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, said that the stress, however, did not have a big influence on the risk of asthma when the environmental trigger was absent. "It is well known that pollution can cause inflammatory effects in the lungs, and inflammation is a cardinal feature of asthma. Stress can also have a pro-inflammatory effect, so it is certainly plausible that the impact of stress and air pollution together might be worse than either on by itself."

The study included approximately 2,500 children that were between the ages of 5 and 9 enrolled in a larger study that was examining the effect of air pollution on respiratory health.

At the time of enrollment, none of the children had evidence of wheezing or asthma, and all of them were followed for a period of three years.As one marker for childhood stress, which is not easily measured directly, the parents completed questionnaires that examined their own stress levels. The researchers also collected other information such as exposure to cigarette smoke, characteristics of the household, and education of the parents, which is an indicator of socioeconomic status. During this three-year study, 120 of the children developed asthma.

Although the stress alone did not appear to increase the risk of asthma, McConnell and his colleagues from USC and Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital found that the combination of living in a stressful household and living near high levels of pollution that is traffic-related was a larger risk factor for asthma than living in a high traffic area alone.

Also, the children whose mothers smoked while they were pregnant were also more likely to develop asthma when their household was stressful.

McConnell stated, "This research provides some new clue about what might be contributing to this complex disease that almost certainly has multiple causes."

According to the Center for Disease Control, the prevalence of asthma increased by approximately 75 percent between the years of 1980 and 1994, and the rates of asthma among children that were under the age of 5 increased by more than 160 percent during this time period.

Approximately 300 million people around the world are estimated to suffer from asthma, an the World Health Organization projects that this number will grow to approximately 400 million by the year 2025.Asthma researcher David B. Penden, MD, from the University of North Carolina, said that it is increasingly clear that the exposure to environmental pollutants such as smoke from cigarettes and traffic exhaust can trigger asthma symptoms in the people who suffer from the disease.

There is also a growing body of evidence that these exposures play a role in the development of asthma in people who do not suffer from the disease.

The research that was done by McConnell and his colleagues is among several studies done recently to suggest a role for stress in the development of asthma. He said, "We are beginning to learn a lot about the role of stress on a host of different diseases related to immune function."



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