Lung function association with outdoor temperature and relative humidity and its interaction with air pollution in the elderly

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Abstract

While the effects of weather variability on cardio-respiratory mortality are well described, research examining the effects on morbidity, especially for vulnerable populations, is warranted. We investigated the associations between lung function and outdoor temperature (T in Celsius degrees (°C)) and relative humidity (RH), in a cohort of elderly men, the Normative Aging Study.

Our study included 1103 participants whose forced vital capacity (FVC), forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), and weather exposures were assessed one to five times during the period 1995–2011 (i.e. 3162 observations). Temperature and relative humidity were measured at one location 4 h to 7 days before lung function tests. We used linear mixed-effects models to examine the associations with outdoor T and RH.

A 5-degree increase in the 3-day moving average T was associated with a significant 0.7% decrease (95%CI: −1.24, −0.20) in FVC and a 5% increase in the 7-day moving average RH was associated with a significant 0.2% decrease (95%CI: −0.40, −0.02) in FVC and FEV1. The associations with T were greater when combined with higher exposures of black carbon with a 1.6% decrease (95%CI −2.2; −0.9) in FVC and a 1% decrease (95%CI −1.7; −0.4) in FEV1. The relationships between T and RH and lung function were linear. No synergistic effect of T and RH was found.

Heat and lung function are two predictors of mortality. Our findings suggest that increases in temperature and relative humidity are related to decreases in lung function, and such observations might be amplified by high black carbon levels.

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