Air Pollution Linked to Increased Risk of Autoimmune Diseases

Exposure to car exhaust and other airborne toxins has long been linked to a wide range of health problems, including heart and lung diseases as well as rheumatoid arthritis, an immune system disorder that causes debilitating swelling and pain in the joints.

For the new study, researchers examined medical records from more than 81,000 older adults treated by more than 3,500 doctors in Italy between June 2016 and November 2020. They also looked at air quality data from 617 monitoring stations across 110 Italian provinces to estimate levels of two types of so-called particulate matter: PM2.5, which is smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and can include emissions from burning gasoline, oil, and wood; and PM10, which is 10 micrometers or less in diameter and includes everything in PM2. 5 as well as dust from construction, agriculture, landfills, and wildfires.

During the study, 12 percent of the participants were diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.

Higher levels of air pollution exposure increased the odds of this happening. Each additional 10 micrograms per cubic meter (mcg/m3) of average PM10 levels was associated with a 7 percent greater autoimmune disease risk.

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