Forget asthma. The new “a” word in pollution-related diseases is appendicitis.
That’s right. A new study suggests that short-term exposure to traffic pollution may cause appendicitis, a condition where the appendix is inflamed and has to be removed, according to a recent story.
The appendix, a small tube attached to the colon, is generally considered a pretty useless organ that our ancestors may have once needed to help break down tough foods like tree bark.
Unfortunately, the insignificant organ can cause a load of trouble if it decides to burst and ooze potentially infectious fluid into the abdomen. So not only is a burst appendix painful, it can also be life threatening.
Though the commonly held theory is that some sort of blockage inside the appendix causes appendicitis, the fact that appendicitis didn’t start popping up until around the 19th century suggests that there may be a link between the increase in industrialization and the prevalence of the condition.
The researchers, who published their report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, decided to explore this possibility, and they found some interesting results.
According to the researchers’ data, more than half of the 5,000 patients who were admitted with appendicitis between April 1999 and December 2006 came in between the months of April and September, which also happen to be the warmest months of the year.
Using data from Environment Canada, the researchers looked at the patients’ exposure to air pollution the week before they were hospitalized and compared it with air pollution concentrations during the other weeks in that month where they didn’t have appendicitis.
Just as they suspected, the researchers found that appendicitis was “significantly associated” with days that had higher concentrations of the two pollutants.
Logically, this makes a lot of sense because people tend to go outside more when the weather is warm, which means that they’re more likely to be exposed to common traffic pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and ozone.
According to the researchers' findings, the summer days with the highest amounts of nitrogen dioxide saw a 75 percent increase in appendicitis admissions.
Days where ozone pollution was highest saw a 30 percent increase in hospital admissions for the condition.
And, it seems that men are more affected by the pollutants than women, possibly because they tend to have more jobs outdoors where they are exposed to more pollutants for longer periods of time.
Though the researchers emphasized that air pollution may just be one component of a larger group of factors that cause appendicitis, the finding gives even more credence to the already widely held belief that everyday pollutants that come from traffic and industry could be behind other common ailments like asthma and even allergies.
Other studies have shown that air pollution triggers an inflammatory response in the body, "and it's believed that inflammation drives cardiovascular disease," says Dr. Gilaad Kaplan, an assistant professor in the gastroenterology division at the University of Calgary and lead author of the study.
For this reason, Kaplan contends that it’s not much of a stretch to believe that air pollution “may be having similar effects on the gastrointestinal tract.”