Hospital admissions among autistic children increase with air pollution exposure

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects one in 100 children. Now a potential link between poor air quality and systemic inflammation has been identified in those with the diagnosis, raising risk factors. 

Research published this week in the BMJ Open journal points to an uptick in hospitalisations caused by exposure to ambient air pollution among children with autism. 

red vehicle in timelapse photography

Issues including hyperactivity, aggression, and self-injury are among the most common reasons children with ASD are admitted to hospital, with neuroinflammation and systemic inflammation two root causes of those problems. According to the study, poor air quality may be responsible for aggravating such symptoms, in turn driving hospitalisations. 

While previous investigations looking at a potential correlation in this area have centred on long-term exposure during pregnancy and the early postnatal period, by comparison, this most recent work looked at the impact of short-term exposure among school-age children. The team responsible studied participants who were aged between five and 14 years between 1st January 2011 and 31st December 2015 in South Korea. You can find the full study framework and original report here.

According to the results: ‘Short-term exposure to PM2.5, NO2 and O3 was associated with a higher risk of hospital admissions for ASD. The associations were demonstrated to be more prominent among boys than among girls.

‘Short-term exposure to air pollution has been shown to be associated with a higher risk of hospital admission or emergency department visit for psychiatric disorders, such as mental disorder, depression, schizophrenia, suicide attempt, substance abuse disorder and panic attack. However, to the best of our knowledge, no direct evidence, except this study, exists on the association between short-term exposure to air pollution and ASD symptom aggravation,’ it continued. 

Links between air pollution and neurological function have featured in Air Quality News a number of times before. This includes research suggesting that improving air quality can reduce the risk of dementia, and a study pointing to potential change in brain connectivity among children exposed to polluted air. 

Image: Camilo Jimenez



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