Could air pollution land children with autism in the hospital?
A new study found that short-term exposure to air pollution is linked to a higher risk for hospitalization among kids with the developmental disorder.
People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are often admitted due to such symptoms as hyperactivity, aggression and self-injury. While neuro-inflammation and systemic inflammation can be improved through medications, diet and supplements, short-term exposure to air pollution may exacerbate those symptoms, the study from Korea found.
A child's developing nervous system is also more susceptible to environmental exposures than an adult's nervous system, the scientists noted.
"This study suggests that short-term exposure to air pollution affects ASD symptom aggravation, which is more prominent among boys than among girls," said the researchers led by Dr. Yun-Chul Hong, of the Institute of Public Health and Medical Care at Seoul National University Hospital, and the Department of Preventive Medicine at Seoul National University College of Medicine.
In the study, the researchers used South Korean government data on daily hospital admissions for autism among children ages 5 to 14 between 2011 and 2015.
The research team also collected information on national daily levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and ozone (O3) in each of the 16 regions in South Korea for up to six days.
Analyzing the numbers, the team found exposure to the pollutants was associated with higher hospitalization risk for children with autism, especially for boys.
For PM2.5, each increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air was associated with a 17% higher risk of hospital admission for autism. A 10 parts per billion increase in NO2 was associated with a 9% higher risk and for O3, a 3% higher risk.
The researchers calculated that exposure to these pollutants was associated with a 29% higher risk of hospital admission for autism, with NO2 having the greatest effect. Hospital admissions included those for hyperactivity, aggression or self-injury.
The findings were published Sept. 20 in the BMJ.
"These results emphasize that reduction of air pollution exposure should be considered for [autism] symptom management, with important implications for the quality of life and economic costs," the researchers said in a journal news release.
Limitations of the study included that regional, rather than local, air pollution levels were measured and that children with mild autism may be less likely to receive psychiatric treatment and so may not have been included in the study. Also, the study only found an association between pollution levels and hospitalization, and not a cause-and-effect link.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more on air pollution.
SOURCE: BMJ, news release, Sept. 20, 2022