allergies and air quality in Australia
it is believed to be an inherited disease, at least in
part, the genetics involved are not yet fully understood.2 Risk factors include family history, parents who smoke,
major respiratory disease before the age of two, and exposure
to allergy causing compounds.3 Other risk factors includes the nasty cocktail of carbon,
nitrogen and sulphur compounds, as well as heavy metals
and particulate matter that are derived from exhaust from
cars, cigarette smoke, home heating and cooking, and industrial
waste. The six main ‘criteria pollutants’ are particulate
matter (PM), sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen (NOX),
photochemical oxidants such as ozone, carbon monoxide
As most of these compounds have similar sources, it is often difficult to determine which is the most harmful. However, air pollutants have certainly been shown to decrease quality of life, as well as increasing hospital admissions and death. In Europe, it is believed that deaths due to vehicle emissions are twice as frequent as deaths due to car accidents.5 In New Zealand, 2% of deaths are caused by air pollution – more than double the figure of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS or malignant melanoma.
Although there is no evidence to suggest that air pollution causes asthma or hay fever, an Australian study has shown that air pollution can worsen these conditions. This is especially true for ozone; however it is difficult to separate these results from the effects of other allergens such as pollen.6 However, other studies have suggested that air pollutants may react with allergens such as pollen, thereby increasing their detrimental effects on the lungs.7
Another interesting factor that may cause or exacerbate asthma is the weather. Reports of an increase in asthma attacks during thunderstorms, in several parts of the world, has prompted studies on the effects of meteorological phenomena on the prevalence of asthma attacks. One study has shown that outflows of cold air during storms may increase the concentration of allergens in the air.8
Along with The UK, the Republic of Ireland, and New Zealand, Australia has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world. Asthma costs the Australian public over $700 million, including medical costs and loss of productivity. Several hundred people die each year from asthma complications in Australia. Although asthma is still on the rise in Australia, the death rate is now decreasing.3
Given the complex nature of asthma, and the variety of factors that can cause or aggravate it, it may seem initially that little can be done for asthma sufferers. However, by dealing with each factor individually, at least initially, significant steps can be made to ease the burden of asthma. In Australia, many cases of asthma are inadequately treated. This can be caused by ignorance, where the patient does not recognise the symptoms of asthma and therefore does not seek treatment at all, or by laxness after treatment in taking sufficient medication.9 This problem can be remedied by increasing education about asthma, a task that is mainly being tackled by Asthma Australia, and its corresponding state organisations.3
else that might help asthmatics is a decrease in pollution,
although it is far from the only solution. As a society,
we can consider changing our driving habits in order to
improve our quality of life. In Australia and New Zealand,
less than 5% of workers ride a bicycle to work, compared
to 15-20% of European workers. We go shopping in cars;
take our children to school in cars; drive to work in
cars. Reducing the time spent in cars would reduce the
amount of emissions produced. Industries such as mining,
energy, and manufacturing also need to consider the health
effects of pollution.10 And perhaps then, asthmatics (or some of them, at least)
will be able to take a deeper breath…without coughing.
2. Haagerup A, Bjerke T, Schoitz PO, Binderup HG, Dahl R, Kruse TA. (2001) Allergic rhinitis - a total genome-scan for susceptibility genes suggests a locus on chromosome 4q24-q27. European Journal of Human Genetics 9, 945-52.
5. Kunzli N, Kaiser R, Medina S, Studnicka M, Chanel O, Filliger P, Herry M, Horak F Jr, Puybonnieux-Texier V, Quenel P, Schneider J, Seethaler R, Vergnaud JC, Sommer H. (2000) Public-health impact of outdoor and traffic-related air pollution: a European assessment. The Lancet, 356, 795-801.
6. Rutherford S, Simpson R, Williams G, Mitchell C, McCall B. (2000) Relationships between environmental factors and lung function of asthmatic subjects in south east Queensland, Australia. Journal of Occupational Environ mental Medicine 42, 882-91.
7. Glikson M, Rutherford S, Simpson R. (1995) The microscopic and submicron components of atmospheric particulates occurring during high asthma periods in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Atmospheric Environment 29, 549-562.
8. Marksa GB, Colquhounb JR, Girgisa ST, Hjelmroos Koskia M, Treloarb ABA, Hansenc P, Downsa SH, Carc NG. (2001) Thunderstorm outflows preceding epidemics of asthma during spring and summer. Thorax, 56, 468-471.
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