PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — If you suffer from severe asthma attacks, a group of local doctors wants to hear from you.

They’re preparing to start a new study that looks at the connection between air pollution and asthma attacks.

Hot days can be tough on people with asthma with ozone and fine particulates in the air.

“We’re at a time of the year where there’s increased levels of air pollution,” said Dr. Deborah Gentile, of Allegheny General Hospital Asthma & Immunology. “Pollution levels usually peak in these months.”

Because air quality could be improved in the Pittsburgh region, local doctors are studying how it relates to asthma.

“We’re looking to see in the study if increases in air pollution are triggering asthma attacks that cause patients to go to the ER,” said Dr. Gentile.

Doctors are looking for 140 patients between ages 7 and 45 to be part of the study. People who come to certain western Pennsylvania emergency rooms with an asthma attack.

They will measure an inflammatory chemical called nitrous oxide to see if the level correlates with symptoms and pollution.

“We picked that because it’s a newer testing method that’s noninvasive,” Dr. Gentile said. “It’s a simple breath test.”

This will be compared to the exhaled nitrous oxide in an accompanying family member who likely had the same environmental exposures. The information will be put together with weather conditions and air quality data. Similar information will be gathered on people with stable asthma.

Previous studies have shown the number of asthma attacks go up on high pollution days, and that nitric levels go up during an attack. But no study has tied the three together.

This pilot study is sponsored by a lung health advocacy group, Breathe Pennsylvania, and the state Department of Health.

Of course, cigarette smoke, pollen and viruses could play a role, too, not just air pollution.

“It may not be one trigger for everyone, and we may find that air pollution isn’t the problem,” Dr. Gentile added.

If the link between pollution, nitric oxide and asthma attacks is established, eventually a home breath testing device could be developed for people with asthma. This could help them check their risk of an attack on a high pollution day.

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Dr. Maria Simbra