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Does Air Pollution Impact Lung Health?

Air quality has a profound effect on the health of our lungs and our ability to breathe comfortably. For people with chronic lung conditions like COPD, air pollution causes more than slight discomfort and inconvenience. In fact, for someone with COPD, the effects of air pollution can actually cause a significant health risk.

If you have ever lived through wildfire season or been subjected to a significant amount of secondhand smoke, you are familiar with the uncomfortable lung burn that comes with exposure to that level of pollutant. However, what you might not know is how frequently we come into contact with pollution, both indoors and out, and how that pollution ultimately impacts our long-term lung health. This is essential information for those with COPD and other chronic lung diseases. Here are some of the more common air pollutants, how they affect your lungs and how you can avoid them.

Indoor Pollutants

second hand smoke lung healthEven when you are inside, you may be at risk of exacerbating your COPD with any number of pollutants that are produced or become trapped inside your home and other enclosed spaces. In developed countries, the risk of living with damaging indoor pollutants is less likely, but it is still helpful to be aware of what could harm your lungs and make your COPD worse. The following pollutants commonly concentrate indoors and could make the air you breathe inside even worse for your lungs than the air outdoors.

  • Secondhand smoke: If you have COPD, you should avoid all forms of tobacco smoke. Even if you do not smoke yourself, inhaling secondhand smoke subjects you to all the same dangerous chemicals as smoking cigarettes. The inhalation of secondhand smoke is known to be a risk factor for COPD and lung disease in general, so if you have COPD, it is critical that no one smokes indoors or close to you.
  • Biological pollutants: Mold, dust mites, pet hair and dander, as well as pollen and any other pollutants carried inside from outdoors, can make allergies and asthma worse, and could cause breathing difficulty for those with COPD and other lung diseases. To help with this, make sure you use an allergen filtering air filter in your furnace or air conditioning system that specifically helps filter out these biological pollutants. Change your filter regularly to ensure that you are filtering as much out as possible, and keep your home tidy to help avoid pollutant build-up that can be recirculated through the air.
  • Toxins released during construction or demolition: Toxins such as asbestos, lead, aldehydes and volatile organic compounds (more commonly called VOCs) can be released or uncovered during construction, remodeling or demolition projects. If your home will be under construction in any way, it is a good idea to leave the house until construction is completed. Make sure all particulates are contained and cleaned up properly to ensure that they are not inhaled.
  • Radon: Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally outdoors when uranium in the surrounding soil or rock breaks down. Radon can come inside your home through cracks in walls, floors, foundations or other openings and slowly builds up. If you are exposed to high levels of radon, you could develop lung cancer.
  • Combustible pollutants: Combustible pollutants like coal, wood, furnaces and any heaters using oil, gas, wood or coal for fuel can create a significant amount of pollution inside. These fuel sources produce fine particles, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and other poisonous gases, fumes and chemicals that can cause lung damage, breathing problems and death. Anyone with COPD or other breathing problems should avoid these heat sources in order to limit exposure to pollutants.
  • Pesticides: Pesticide exposure has been associated with asthma and has also been linked to chronic bronchitis and COPD. When used in enclosed spaces, it is particularly hazardous, but pesticides used on outdoor plants can make their way inside through the air just after being applied, and can be tracked indoors after settling. If you have COPD or another chronic lung condition, it is important to avoid pesticide exposure whenever possible.

Because indoor pollutants tend to become concentrated without the ability to dissipate, people exposed to indoor air pollutants are at least twice as likely to be diagnosed with COPD. Avoid these pollutants whenever possible, but if you or a loved one has COPD, it is a good idea to have your air tested in addition to minimizing risk and exposure to indoor pollution. Keep your home clean and tidy, but ensure you don’t use cleaners that produce irritating or toxic fumes.

air pollution and lung health

Outdoor Pollutants

When we think of harmful air pollution, we typically think of outdoor pollutants. Particulate matter and ozone are the two most harmful pollutants outdoors, and they become particularly problematic in areas with significant population congestion, areas where the air does not move as freely and areas where there are frequent forest fires or field burning. For people with COPD or other chronic lung conditions, outdoor air pollution is a serious concern. In order to avoid air that could be unsafe for people with COPD, there are some important steps to take to protect your lungs.

  • If you live in an area with frequently bad air quality, monitor your area’s air quality daily.
  • If the air quality is dangerous, stay indoors if possible. Consider getting a mask in case you need to head outside when the air is bad, or practice breathing only through your nose.
  • When the air quality is bad, try to avoid exerting yourself even when you are inside.
  • Keep your windows closed when pollution is higher or if you live near a highway.
  • If you must exercise outdoors, do so in the mornings when air quality is better.
  • If you have air conditioning, run it on recirculation mode to filter the air.
  • Keep indoor plants, as they can improve your indoor air quality.
  • If you find that your air quality is bad indoors, too, try going to a public place (like a restaurant, mall or movie theater) with an HVAC system.

If you or a loved one has COPD, outdoor pollution can be frightening and difficult to avoid. As such, it is ideal to live in a place with typically good air quality year round. When that is not possible, do what you can to avoid breathing the outdoor air when it is at its worse, and work to improve the quality of your air inside your home.

How Air Quality Impacts Your Health

Overall, air pollution has serious consequences for anyone who is regularly exposed, and it has been linked to increased disease and even death. Depending on the kinds of air pollution you are exposed to, the impact on your health can vary, ranging from an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, bladder cancer, appendicitis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, neurodevelopmental disorders, leukemia and, of course, respiratory diseases and lung cancer. Air pollution can make its way into your blood, as well as into your organs and nervous system, and as such its impact can be widespread and devastating. It is clear that air pollution of all kinds is bad for your health, but for people with COPD and other chronic lung conditions, it is especially hazardous.

Air Pollution Lung Health

The best way to combat these health risks is to avoid exposure to air pollution whenever possible. If you or a loved one have COPD or any other breathing condition, it is critical to keep track of your local air quality so you can act accordingly, as people with lung conditions are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. Monitor your indoor air whenever possible, and keep track of the local outdoor air quality index so you know when it is safe for you to participate in outdoor activities or go outside at all. Make sure that you do not smoke and avoid exposure to other pollutants wherever possible.

If you have COPD and live in an area with high levels of air pollution, or suspect that your indoor air is polluted or that you have been exposed to an airborne toxin that is affecting your breathing, talk to your health care provider about the right tests to help diagnose your level of exposure. Talk with your doctor about choosing the right treatments for your lung condition, and to learn more about how to take additional measures to minimize your exposure to air pollutants.

The air we breathe has a significant impact on everyone’s overall health, but for people with COPD and other chronic lung diseases, the quality of the air they breathe can mean the difference between being able to breathe comfortably and experiencing wheezing, bronchospasms, tightness in the chest and general shortness of breath. If you experience these symptoms, you may also want to talk to your doctor about the benefits of oxygen therapy and oxygen concentrators to minimize your symptoms.

Inogen Can Help Improve Your Breathing

At Inogen, we believe that improving the quality of your air can help improve your life. If your health care provider determines that oxygen therapy can help you breathe better, Inogen’s oxygen concentrators can make receiving oxygen therapy easier and more enjoyable. Inogen was founded on the belief that oxygen therapy should help improve your life, not hold you back, so we have developed oxygen concentrators that can help improve your breathing no matter where you are. Our Inogen At Home stationary oxygen concentrator helps improve your breathing at home, while our Inogen One G4 and G3 portable oxygen concentrators are lightweight enough to be used at home or on the go. If you have lung disease or another chronic breathing condition and you are struggling with polluted air, oxygen therapy can help minimize your symptoms and improve your breathing. Talk to your doctor to find out more today.

 

SOURCES

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4740163/

https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-effects-of-pollution-on-copd-914743

https://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/indoor/indoor-air-pollutants/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3881124/

https://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/outdoor/air-pollution/

 

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