It is a well-known fact that asthma attacks are triggered by air pollution, especially among children. A recent study by researchers at the University of California shows that another factor exacerbates asthma risk among children already suffering from dirty air. And this factor is parental stress.
The authors tell BBC:
“These results suggest that children from stressful households are more susceptible to the effects of traffic-related pollution and in utero tobacco smoke on the development of asthma.”
The link between stress and asthma many have a biological explanation. Previous studies have shown that :
- Maternal stress during pregnancy is linked increased risk for developing asthma and other allergies in children.
- Maternal smoking during pregnancy and after delivery also contributes to children’s asthma risk.
- Direct stress trigger also triggers asthma attacks in both children and adults.
The current study looked at 2,497 primary school children who initially did not have asthma in Southern California and followed them up for 3 years. The children were monitored for the development of asthma, asthma risk factors in their immediate environment (traffic pollution, second hand smoking) and psychosocial factors such as parental education, income, and stress levels.
Children exposed to air pollution and second hand smoking (especially maternal smoking) had a higher risk of developing asthma. However, high levels of stress in the family seem to have a compounding effect on asthma. The children who were especially affected were those who described their parents as „stressed“ and their lives as „unpredictable”, “uncontrollable” or “overwhelming“.
The authors believe that stress adds to the inflammatory effects of air pollutants.
According to Elaine Vickers of Asthma UK:
“This study adds to existing evidence suggesting that a child’s environment can impact on their risk of developing asthma.
For example, smoking during pregnancy, traffic pollution and stress in the home may all have harmful effects.
We know that smoking during pregnancy significantly increases a baby’s risk of having breathing difficulties and that children whose parents smoke are 1.5 times more likely to develop asthma, so Asthma UK strongly advises parents to avoid smoking around children and young people, especially in the home.
One in 11 children in the UK has asthma so studies like this are vital, as they provide an insight into the factors influencing asthma development and therefore how it might be prevented.”