From: European Lung Foundation via EurekAlert
Published March 14, 2015 08:07 AM

The link between diesel exhaust and lung irritation

Estoril, Portugal: Researchers in the UK have, for the first time, shown how exhaust pollution from diesel engines is able to affect nerves within the lung. Air pollution is a significant threat to health, they say, and identifying potential mechanisms linking exposure to diesel exhaust and the exacerbation of respiratory diseases may lead to treatments for those affected.

Mr. Ryan Robinson, a PhD student at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, UK, will tell the 13th European Respiratory Society Lung Science Conference today (Saturday) about his work studying diesel exhaust particles and airway sensory nerves. The news comes as the Healthy Lungs for Life campaign, launched by the European Respiratory Society and European Lung Foundation, takes places this year aiming to raise awareness of the importance of breathing clean air. 

Diesel exhaust is a significant component of urban air pollution, containing a complicated mixture of gases and airborne particles. "Studies have shown that exposure to these diesel particles is associated with harmful health effects," says Mr. Robinson. "These particles are very small - down to 20 nanometres in diameter - and are therefore not only invisible to the naked eye, but can penetrate deep into the lungs."

The lungs contain numerous sensory nerves that can detect potentially harmful stimuli and thus allow the body to respond, for example by triggering a cough. "However, we know that these nerves can also be involved in exacerbating respiratory conditions, for example by causing the bronchi to constrict in diseases such as asthma," says Mr. Robinson.

Diesel car exhaust image via Shutterstock.

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