Ultrafine particles (PM), which are present in the air in large numbers, pose a health risk. They generally enter the body through the lungs but translocate to essentially all organs. Compared to fine particles (PM), they cause more pulmonary inflammation and are retained longer in the lung. Their toxicity is increased with smaller size, larger surface area, adsorbed surface material, and the physical characteristics of the particles. Exposure to PM induces cough and worsens asthma. Metal fume fever is a systemic disease of lung inflammation most likely caused by PM. The disease is manifested by systemic symptoms hours after exposure to metal fumes, usually through welding. PM cause systemic inflammation, endothelial dysfunction, and coagulation changes that predispose individuals to ischemic cardiovascular disease and hypertension. PM are also linked to diabetes and cancer. PM can travel up the olfactory nerves to the brain and cause cerebral and autonomic dysfunction. Moreover, in utero exposure increases the risk of low birthweight. Although exposure is commonly attributed to traffic exhaust, monitored students in Ghana showed the highest exposures in a home near a trash burning site, in a bedroom with burning coils employed to abate mosquitos, in a home of an adult smoker, and in home kitchens during domestic cooking. The high point-source production and rapid redistribution make incidental exposure common, confound general population studies and are compounded by the lack of global standards and national reporting. The potential for PM to cause harm to health is great, but their precise role in many illnesses is still unknown and calls for more research.
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