Air pollution linked to psychotic episodes in teenagers, study claims

Air pollution is linked to psychotic experiences in adolescents, according to a new study published on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
(Associated Press)

A new study links air pollution and psychotic experiences in teens.

The research, conducted by scientists from King’s College in London, published in JAMA Psychiatry on Wednesday.

The findings may explain why young people who grow up in urban areas, have a higher risk of psychosis, according to a press release about the research.


Although the researchers were able to find a connection, they do not prove air pollution was the cause of psychotic experiences, according to Dr. Joanne Newbury, of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, the lead author of the study.

“We found that adolescents, psychotic experiences were more common in urban areas,” Newbury said in the release. “During the study could not demonstrate pollutants caused adolescents to have psychotic experiences, our findings suggest that air pollution may be a contributing factor in the link between city living and psychotic experiences.”


A psychotic experience can be hearing voices and extreme paranoia. These experiences tend to be more common in teenagers than in adults, according to the release, but teens who report such experiences are more likely to develop psychotic disorders or other mental health problems.

Researchers used data from the E-Risk study, in which data of 2,232 children born in England and Wales.

Scientists used hourly estimates of air pollution in locations where the teenagers spent a majority of their time when she was 17, for the calculation of the exposure to air pollution. They also used their own interviews about their psychotic experiences when they turned 18.

Even the accounting of the risk factors for psychosis, researchers found psychotic experiences were “significantly more” for teens who had the highest exposure to air pollution, made of nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxides and small particulate matter.

“Children and young people are the most vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution by the juvenility of the brain and of the respiratory tract,” Professor Frank Kelly, Environmental Health at King’s College London, the co-author of the study, said.

“Given the fact that 70 percent of the world’s population lives in cities, in 2050, is uncovering the mechanisms for linking the urban environment to psychosis should an urgent health priority,” Kelly added.

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