Ground-level air pollution can cause a variety of health problems, and East Carolina University’s Dr. Kym Gowdy is taking a closer look at how and why. Her work, for which she has received a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, could eventually help decrease the frequency of respiratory infections like pneumonia.

“We know that when there are periods of high air pollution, people who are more exposed to that pollution are more susceptible to respiratory infections,” Gowdy said. “There are more hospitalizations for pneumonia around those times, and pneumonia is a huge concern to the U.S. and also other countries because we don’t have the best drugs to treat pneumonia, and some of our outcomes are pretty poor.”

The focus of Gowdy’s work in the Brody School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology is on the mechanisms by which environmental exposures can lead to diseases of the lungs, cardiovascular system and immune system. Her current project centers on ozone, a criteria air pollutant present in low concentrations throughout the ground-level atmosphere. As ozone levels increase due to rising temperatures, increasing vehicle traffic and other factors, it can damage mucous and respiratory tissues.

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Originally published June 26, 2018. Written by Jules Norwood.