Purpose of review: Several clinical and epidemiological studies have reported an association between exposure to pesticides, bronchial hyper-reactivity and asthma symptoms. This article reviews the mechanistic evidence lending support to the concept that either acute or chronic low-level inhalation of pesticides may trigger asthma attacks, exacerbate asthma or increase the risk of developing asthma.
Recent findings: Pesticide aerosols or gases, like other respiratory irritants, can lead to asthma through interaction with functional irritant receptors in the airway and promoting neurogenic inflammation. Cross-talk between airway nerves and inflammatory cells helps to maintain chronic inflammation that eventually damages the bronchial epithelium. Certain organophosphorus insecticides cause airway hyper-reactivity via a common mechanism of disrupting negative feedback control of cholinergic regulation in the lungs. These pesticides may interact synergistically with allergen sensitization rendering individuals more susceptible for developing asthma.
Summary: Many pesticides are sensitizers or irritants capable of directly damaging the bronchial mucosa, thus making the airway very sensitive to allergens or other stimuli. However, most pesticides are weakly immunogenic so that their potential to sensitize airways in exposed populations is limited. Pesticides may increase the risk of developing asthma, exacerbate a previous asthmatic condition or even trigger asthma attacks by increasing bronchial hyper-responsiveness.