Pollution chokes, COPD provokes: Increasing cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases amid the rising pollution

According to a study published in The Lancet Journal, there has been a staggering rise of almost 100% in the last decade pertaining to the COPD cases in India.

By Dr Sharad Joshi,

Air pollution has been posing a stringent threat on the overall health of individuals with respiratory ailments, especially chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) cases on the rise. It is that time of the year when Delhi NCR and its surrounding areas grapple with bad air and pollution which makes life difficult for most of us. The problem of air pollution has increased dramatically since the last decade which may have increased the prevalence even further.

COPD is a common, preventable, and treatable chronic lung disease causing narrowing and constriction of the airways that help us breathe, usually caused by significant exposure to noxious particles or gases . COPD is also termed as “emphysema” or “chronic bronchitis”. While it is shocking to know that COPD is the second most common cause of Non-Communicable Disease -related mortality in the country, yet many people and even some Doctors do not have much knowledge about it.

According to a study published in The Lancet Journal, there has been a staggering rise of almost 100% in the last decade pertaining to the COPD cases in India. The study also witnessed a gigantic 13% loss of life, killing around 10 lakh patients with COPD every year.

Even in light of COVID pandemic, COPD remains a leading cause of death and hence there is never a more important period to focus on Lung health. With an aim to increase awareness among the general public about the chronic inflammatory lung condition, every year 17th November is observed as World COPD Day. This year with the theme ‘healthy lungs – never more important’ aims to emphasize on the fact that the burden of COPD has not subsided even during the COVID Era.

Link between COPD and air pollution

The onset of problems associated with COPD usually are symptomized from mid-life onwards where the sufferer feels shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing or breathlessness that may cause long stabbing cough with phlegm and episodes of frequent tiredness. Even though the symptoms develop gradually over time they are usually a resultant from a host of risk factors including active smoking of cigarettes or bidis or even from passive smoking, exposure to environmental pollution like dust, fumes or any other toxic chemicals.

Since the pollutants suspended in the air becomes deeply lodged inside the lungs and cause irritation thereby damaging the respiratory tract, extensive exposure to bad air has a significant connection to trigger a COPD attack. Increased air pollution can also lead to various respiratory infections that can further lead to COPD attacks.

For those with pre-existing lung conditions high levels of exposure to pollutants can flare up the attack of asthma or COPD, while healthy looking people who work or exercise outdoors may experience the symptoms only when they are exposed to air pollution for a relatively longer duration. Various studies also claim and prove that those living nearby excess road traffic are at a higher prevalence and risk for developing COPD.

The extent of lung damage caused by air pollution depends directly on various factors like the type of pollutants in the environment, the concentration of pollutants and how deep the particles get inside the airways. Irrespective of age and gender barrier, every individual reacts differently to the damage caused due to the air pollution, with some being highly affected than others.

Managing COPD!

Lifestyle modification plays a pivotal role in the prevention and management of the condition. Despite being an irreversible condition, the treatment regime looks to relieve the symptoms, improve the quality of life by further reducing the risk of further damage. Good and effective lifestyle changes include –

· Smoking cessation

· Avoiding visits to areas with poor air quality/ high air pollution.

· Eliminating the exposure to toxic fumes and chemicals as much as possible to manage the symptoms and exacerbations.

· Regular Exercising & Physical activities – helps in strengthening the lungs and generally improves the cardiovascular function in those with COPD.

While there is a dire need to raise awareness regarding this disease and act accordingly, people should not ignore the lung problems or delay treatment, but try to improve the quality of life by staying fit and healthy.

(The author is Associate Director – Pulmonology, Max Hospital, Vaishali. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult medical experts and health professionals before starting any therapy, medication and/or remedy. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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