Lung function, or the ability to breathe, in childhood is a major predictor of allergic respiratory disease in adulthood.
But what role does pollen play in this?
Research led by Dr Katrina Lambert and Professor Bircan Erbas has established a link between exposure to grass pollen in early life and decreased lung function in children and adolescents.
“Around 31% of Australians suffer from chronic respiratory conditions, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” explains Dr Lambert. “It is the third leading cause of death worldwide.”
Pollen exposure has both acute and chronic effects on allergic asthma. And climate change is amplifying the problem, with the pollen season starting earlier, and higher carbon dioxide levels leading to greater pollen production and allergenicity.
The research team examined the association between pollen exposure in childhood and lung function in adolescence. They found increased airway inflammation in all children, not just those sensitive to grass pollen. These associations were stronger in greener areas.
“Exposure to grass pollen in early life was associated with significant reduction in lung function at age 15,” says Dr Lambert. “Our findings suggest that grass pollen avoidance strategies in early childhood may be of benefit, along with awareness campaigns for people with asthma prior to the peak pollen season.”
Dr Lambert and Professor Erbas are now exploring the impact of pollen seasons and other environmental factors, such as bushfires, in regional and remote areas.