It only takes short-term exposure to certain particles in the air, which cause air pollution, to significantly increase the frequency of visits to the emergency department of pediatric psychiatrics. These particles, known collectively as particulate matter, have different sizes and are measured by their aerodynamic diameter.

A particulate matter of size 2.5, referred to as PM2.5 (particle matter that is 2.5 microns or less in diameter), was investigated in a study conducted by the University of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio. The study focused on explaining the exacerbating effects of acute exposures to air pollution, and how this is related to the associated risks for pediatric psychiatric emergency department (ED) visits. The study was conducted using a time-stratified case-crossover study to evaluate the potential association between PM2.5 exposure and psychiatric pediatric ED visits. A time-stratified case-crossover design involves comparing exposure levels when the health event or situation occurs to exposure levels when it does not. 

The study was conducted over a five-year period. Researchers found evidence that showed a significant link between short-term PM2.5 exposure and an increase in psychiatric ED visits in both children and adolescents of various ages and both sexes. Researchers took data from 13,176 patients who visited the psychiatric ED category and who were diagnosed with various disorders and problems such as stress, anxiety, adjustment, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, and suicidality.

Another important finding of this study was the association between short-term exposures to air pollution and psychiatric ED visits being strengthened by an additional factor: community deprivation. Community deprivation is a collective term including social isolation, childhood sexual abuse, deprived of educational attainment, or any other factors pertaining to social deprivation

The study also suggests that material deprivation, lack of basic necessities such as food and water during childhood, negatively affects the normal functioning of the brain and immune system, thus making children much more susceptible to air-pollution related respiratory diseases. Overall, this study has found compelling evidence that emphasizes a need for further research.

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