Exploring the link between air pollutants and allergic diseases

A study by researchers at National Jewish Health (NJH) has found that air pollutants such as PMs, pollen and greenhouse gases can contribute to the development and exacerbation of allergic diseases through the skin.

The study builds on previous research around children with eczema subsequently developing food allergies, asthma, and hay fever.

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More specifically, it focusses on previous research from NJH that found a connection between a child’s proximity to roads with high volumes of traffic and the development of atopic dermatitis (aka: eczema).

Donald Leung, MD, PhD, head of Pediatric Allergy & Clinical Immunology at National Jewish Health and senior author of the study said: ‘People are aware of the connection between pollution and respiratory disease, but we wanted to take the next step and investigate how global warming is damaging our skin. We found that pollutants can damage the skin barrier and contribute to allergic diseases that can be passed on to future generations.’

Earlier research at NJH has led to treatment aimed at sealing the skin barrier and stopping the atopic march (the progression of allergic diseases). These include early biomarker identification and treatments that involve moisturising the skin before trapping the moisture in with ointment.

Despite all that progressions, the most effective approach to prevent allergic diseases resulting from air pollutants is to minimise exposure to these pollutants from an early age, keeping in mind that pollutants are not only present outdoors but also indoors as well. Researchers warn that there is a pressing need for a global policy initiative that prioritizes efforts to reduce air pollutant emissions and extremes of temperature.

Michael Nevid, MD, pediatric allergist and immunologist at National Jewish Health, and an author on the study said: ‘A baby’s skin is susceptible to environmental hazards as its continuing to develop and adjust to its new environment outside of the womb. Our research found that highly trafficked roads may have adverse ramifications on skin health in children, raising the risk of developing atopic dermatitis. This highlights the importance of having environmental interventions designed to decrease exposure to traffic in young children.’

Jessica Hui, MD, pediatric allergist and immunologist at NJH, and author on the study said: ‘Climate change and pollution have led to increased hay fever with longer allergy seasons and more allergenic plants. Pollens can be triggers for not only hay fever, but eczema and asthma too. Our skin barrier protects us from external threats and the best way to treat the atopic march is to take preventive measures.’

The full report can be read here.


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