American Thoracic Society news tips for October

October 18, 2000

Air pollution causes a decline in childrens' lung function growth

A significant decline in lung function growth from air pollution for 1,498 fourth-grade students highlighted southern California researchers lung function measurements of a study group of 3,035 school children. After appropriate adjustment for personal and household characteristics, they found ambient air pollution correlated with statistically significant and physiologically important decreases in lung function growth. They reported that the children's annual deficit in lung function ability (0.9 percent), resulting mostly from exposure to very tiny air pollution particles, considerably exceeded the 0.2 percent decline reported from passive exposure to smoke. They point out this deficit could lead to a reduction in maximal attained lung function as a young adult, and lead ultimately to increased risk of chronic respiratory disease during adulthood. More long-term follow-up of the study group is needed to determine whether the observed deficits in lung function caused by air pollution will affect adult respiratory health. The study appears in the October issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Habitually sleepy drivers have 13-fold greater risk of auto crashes

In Spain, approximately one out of every 30 drivers is habitually sleepy while driving and has a 13-fold greater risk of having an automobile crash than did the study's control subjects. Spanish researchers oversaw telephone interviews conducted with 4,002 randomly selected drivers from Western Spain to define the prevalence of auto drivers who were habitually sleepy. They found 145 (3.6 percent) who fell into that category. Compared with non-sleepy drivers, habitually sleepy drivers had many characteristics associated with respiratory disorders during sleep. They were more overweight, more likely to snore, reported apneas (brief cessation of breathing while sleeping), had morning fatigue, and suffered from hypertension. The research appears in the October issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Long-standing asthma reduces lung function

Based on data from a new study, investigators believe that long-standing asthma causes irreversible reductions in lung function. A group of 75 elderly (average age 65), lifetime non- smoking asthmatics was divided into two groups: 38 who had asthma of long duration (longer than 26 years) and 37 who had asthma for less than 26 years. The average time from diagnosis for the long duration group was 40 years and for the short duration patients 9 years. Since airway inflammation is central to the pathogenesis of asthma, these researchers evaluated airflow, lung volume, and response to bronchodilator medication to determine whether longstanding asthma distorts bronchial architecture, leading to irreversible changes in pulmonary function. They found the degree of airflow limitation and hyperinflation (overinflation of the lungs) was directly related to the duration of the disease. Many study patients had been severely affected by their asthma. About two-thirds of the group were unable to walk more than a city block, and 57 percent were unable to climb more than one flight of New York City subway stairs without pausing for breath. The subjects with long duration asthma consistently showed more severe airflow limitation for all measurements made by the researchers. Furthermore, elderly subjects with long-standing asthma failed to achieve normal airflow after bronchodilator treatment, in contrast to those with asthma of short duration. The article appears in the October issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
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For either the complete text of these articles or to contact the investigators by e-mail, please see the ATS Journal Online Website at http://www.atsjournals.org. Medical and scientific journalists who would like to interview these researchers, receive a complimentary subscription to the ATS journals, and/or receive the ATS news briefs by E-mail each month, should contact Lori Quigley at (212) 315-6442, by fax at (212) 315-6455, or by e-mail at lquigley@thoracic.org.

American Thoracic Society

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