For years, the lung disease emphysema has been associated with long term smoking. But according to a recent US study, living in a highly polluted area can also increase the risk of developing the disease.
Emphysema is a disease of the lungs that progressively worsens over time. Air sacs in the lungs, known as alveoli, become damaged, making it difficult to breath. Unfortunately, there is no cure for emphysema and people with the disease often go on to develop chronic bronchitis. This causes inflammation in the airways and a persistent cough, often referred to as a ‘smoker’s cough’. Together, the two conditions make up COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Around 12 million people in the US have COPD, and after heart disease and cancer, it is the biggest cause of premature death in our country.
For many years it was assumed people were only at risk of developing emphysema if they had been a long term smoker. But the findings from this latest study flip that theory on its head.
The team focused their attention on exposure to ozone, fine particulate matter, oxides of nitrogen and carbon. To determine how these particular pollutants can increase a person’s chances of developing emphysema. The study took place over 18 years, involved 5780 people, across 6 major metropolitan areas in the US.
This statement from the study’s senior co-author, Professor Joel Kaufman, of the University of Washington, illustrates just how dangerous pollution can be.
“We were surprised to see how strong air pollution’s impact was on the progression of emphysema on lung scans, in the same league as the effects of cigarette smoking, ….”
Chronic lung disease has been on the rise in the US over recent years and these latest findings suggest air pollution is a major contributor. In fact, the team claim that air pollution can increase the risk of developing emphysema in the same way that smoking a pack of cigarettes every day for 29 years can.
If you’re concerned about air quality where you live, you may want to check out this website for daily updates on local air quality. On days when air quality is bad, you’re advised to keep the windows and doors in your home closed and avoid outdoor activities, particularly if you have any ongoing respiratory problems.
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