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Runny Nose All Year Round? Blame Air Pollution!

You have a runny nose throughout the year, regardless of season? The culprit might be air pollution, suggests a new study published in the American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology.

Exposure to dirty air can lead to chronic inflammation of the nasal and sinus tissues, according to the new study conducted by Johns Hopkins researchers. This paper is the first to show a direct biological and molecular link between air pollution and the resulting health problem; while previous research has shown that air pollutants increase the incidence of asthma, and worsen the symptoms, little proof had hitherto been generated to show that the noxious particles can cause comparable damage to the upper respiratory system.

Researcher Murray Ramanathan explains that the findings have implications for people from developing countries in particular. Air pollution is kept within a certain level of control in certain parts of the world like in the US while developing countries like China, Egypt, and India are governed by fewer regulations, where inhabitants still use wood-burning stoves, and factories freely release pollutants in the air. Ramanathan explains that their study results suggest these conditions are associated with a greater likelihood of developing chronic sinus problems. A runny nose, congestion, and pain in the face are among the consequences of such health conditions. Furthermore, this disease has been linked with depression, chronic fatigue, and decreased productivity in other studies.

For their experimentation, the researchers exposed 19 male mice to filtered air, and another 19 to concentrated Baltimore air that contained small particles whose concentration amounted to around 30 to 60% lower than the concentration of particles found in cities like Beijing, Cairo, and New Delhi (this air had pollutants, and excluded natural allergens like dust and pollen). Samples of inflammatory and other cells were taken from the noses and sinuses of the mice, thereafter, to be examined under a microscope. It was observed that mice having breathed in polluted air had more white blood cells that would cause inflammation than the mice which inhaled filtered air. The researchers also found more proteins that are biomarkers for inflammation in the former group.

Ramanathan concludes that chronic exposure to air pollution led to a form of asthma in the noses of the mice.

“We’ve identified a lot of evidence that breathing in dirty air directly causes a breakdown in the integrity of the sinus and nasal air passages in mice,” says Ramanathan. “Keeping this barrier intact is essential for protecting the cells in the tissues from irritation or infection from other sources, including pollen or germs.”

The team now intends to further their studies to understand the specific changes occurring at the molecular level in the nose and the sinus because of air pollution.

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