Today, I read in Environmental Health News about a 2010 research report about lupus and environmental triggers. A lupus treatment center in Montreal studied the possible connection between pollution and lupus flares. Citywide collection of smog readings and lupus activity for over two hundred lupus patients were reviewed over a seven-year period, leading to evidence of a possible connection between a specific smog component and increased lupus activity.
This is one of the first reports to study a connection between smog and its possible affects on lupus activity. To read the full report, please visit the following link. PM 2.5 Pollution Linked with Lupus Activity
My own connection to unhealthy smog exposure dates back to my early childhood. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and developed allergies to the region’s smog. I remember my doctor talking to me about my condition he called “bay area throat” in the 1960s and 1970s, described then as a regional phenomenon connected with smog irritation. I can remember summer smog alerts when I was a child. Late summer climatic heat inversions trapped the brown smog laden air near the ground and caused rare hot weather around the Bay Area.
After high alert smog exposures, I would often develop respiratory congestion with symptoms of inflamed vocal chords and a hoarse voice. This was a great recurring frustration when I was studying classical music and voice performance at the university there! One time years after leaving the San Francisco Bay Area, I returned to my home church in the East Bay to do a concert with my singer/pianist husband, and lost my voice with the same symptoms. He had to perform all by himself!
Smog exposure commuting
While living in Phoenix, I was eventually diagnosed with smog-connected nasal allergies, long before also receiving lupus and asthma diagnosis.
My own lupus was not diagnosed until my early childbearing years. After my second child was born, my ever-changing symptoms showed distinguishable patterns and I was finally diagnosed with lupus.
Over the next ten years, I commuted to my jobs in Phoenix law offices every day on the city bus, usually switching buses at points in the heaviest morning commute corridor of the city. Over those years, I had daily exposure to some of the heaviest concentrations of smog possible in Arizona, and according to an article I read, one of the ten most polluted areas in the country.
Perhaps any connection with smog in my auto-immune history is a coincidence, but perhaps smog components were one of many causes or contributing factors to my development of active lupus. This type of possible environmental trigger should be studied more to help find or rule out smog as a possible link to triggering lupus and its flares.
Avoiding smog exposure
I no longer commute on the bus for several health-related reasons:
1) Waiting for buses and walking several blocks to my destination provides too much sun exposure for my lupus and causes skin rashes and other lupus symptoms to flare.
2) My lupus arthritis prohibits my ability to walk any measurable distance.
3) Exposure to the smog aggravates my allergies and asthma, which when flared, also seems to trigger flares of my lupus.
Now, I drive my car a total of almost 50 miles each day commuting four days each week and telecommute the fifth day. While driving, I keep my car windows closed, my air conditioner on (it is Phoenix, after all) with the fan set to circulate the air inside my car.
I shun the smog as much as possible! Whether or not this helps my lupus or not, I do know it helps my allergies an asthma.
My advice to other lupus patients is to carefully consider your form of transportation carefully. If you show any worsening of symptoms that seem triggered by exposure to smog or other environmental elements, talk to your doctor about it!
Read more about smog and health/lupus:
- The Mayo Clinic article Non-allergic Rhinitis Risk Factors identifies lupus as a risk factor in upper respiratory conditions.
- The Lupus Foundation of America lupus expert Dr. Mark Gourley in Lupus and the Environment discusses air pollution and other possible environmental triggers for lupus.
- A Science Daily reference article, Pollution, mentions a possible lupus connection to air pollution.
- In the medical journal, Epidemiology an article on Long-term Exposure to Air Pollution and Increased Mortality in Lupus by the University of North Carolina School of Public Health, the U.S. EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, the National Taiwan University Department of Bio-environmental Systems Engineering, and the San Diego State University Department of Geography provide epidemiological evidence supporting the novel hypothesis that particulate air pollutants increase mortality in lupus, likely through cumulative cardiac damages.
- In the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Environmental Health Perspectives Journal, a 2011 report on Associations between Ambient Fine Particulate Levels and Disease Activity in Patients with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) discusses the above-cited Montreal study on the potential influence of particulate matter (PM) air pollution on clinical aspects of SLE.