Repeated exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and asthma: effect of seroatopy

Background: Exposure to traffic-related air pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), can induce asthma. However, the effects of early repeated PAH exposure over time on different asthma phenotypes have not been examined.

Objective: To assess associations between repeated PAH exposure, measured from prenatal personal and residential indoor monitors in children’s homes, and asthma in an inner-city cohort.

Methods: Prenatal exposure was assessed by personal air monitoring during 48 hours and exposure at 5 to 6 years of age by 2-week residential monitoring in the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health cohort. PAH was dichotomized into pyrene (representative semivolatile PAH) and the sum of 8 nonvolatile PAHs. High exposure to each was defined as measures above the median at both repeated time points. Asthma and wheeze were determined by validated questionnaires at ages 5 to 6 years. Children with specific IgE levels greater than 0.35 IU/mL to any of 5 indoor allergens were considered seroatopic.

Results: Among all 354 children, repeated high exposure to pyrene was associated with asthma (odds ratio [OR], 1.90; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.13-3.20). Among 242 nonatopic children, but not those sensitized to indoor allergens (n = 87) or with elevated total IgE levels (n = 171), high pyrene levels were associated positively with asthma (OR, 2.89; 95% CI, 1.77-5.69), asthma medication use (OR, 2.28; 95% CI, 1.13-4.59), and emergency department visits for asthma (OR, 2.43; 95% CI, 1.20-4.91). Associations between the levels of the 8 nonvolatile PAHs and asthma were not observed, even when stratifying by seroatopy.

Conclusion: Nonatopic children may be more susceptible to the respiratory consequences of early pyrene exposures.

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