Science 3 min read

Air Pollution Can Accelerate Progression of Emphysema of the Lung

A new study revealed that air pollution not only increases the risk of people acquiring emphysema, it also accelerates its progression.

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

According to a new study, air pollution – especially ozone air pollution – can accelerate the progress of emphysema of the lung.

In the past, researchers have explored the link between air pollutants and some heart and lung diseases. However, only a few studied the effects of long term exposure to major air pollutants.

That’s what the researchers at the University of Washington, Columbia University, and the University of Buffalo did. In their paper in JAMA, the team described how long-term exposure to major pollutants could increase emphysema seen in lungs.

Emphysema is a condition in which the air sacs of the lungs are damaged and enlarged, causing wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. It also increases a person’s risk of death.

Senior co-author of the study and professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and epidemiology in UW’s School of Public Health, Dr. Joel Kaufman, said:

“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, which is by far the best-known cause of emphysema.”

The researchers noted that residents of regions whose ambient ozone levels are three parts per billion higher than other areas for over ten years experience an emphysema progression equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarette per day for 29 years.

Unfortunately, the ozone level of some parts of the United States is increasing by that amount partly due to climate change. The annual average of ozone levels in the study ranged from 10 to 25 parts per billion.

The Link Between Air Pollution and Emphysema

For the study, the researchers examined over 7,000 participants and the air pollution they encountered between 2000 and 2018 in six metropolitan regions across the United States.

They then developed a unique and accurate method of assessing exposure to air pollution. These include air pollution measurements in the participants’ homes as well as the metropolitan areas.

Result of the study showed that while many airborne pollutants are on the decline in the study areas, ozone has been increasing. This is due to ground-level ozone, which is produced when UV light reacts with pollutants from fossil fuels.

Senior author of the paper and professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University who led the MESA Lung study, Dr. R. Graham Barr, said:

“These findings matter since ground-level ozone levels are rising, and the amount of emphysema on CT scans predicts hospitalization from and deaths due to chronic lung disease.”

The researchers used results from CT scans to identify the holes in the small air sacs of the participants’ lungs. Other methods of measuring emphysema include lung function tests to analyze the speed and quantity of air that’s been inhaled and exhaled by the participants.

The study contributes to a growing knowledge of the relationship between air pollution and emphysema. The researchers believe that such knowledge could help us develop effective ways to prevent and treat the devastating lung disease.

Read More: New Study Claims Air Pollution Speeds Up Aging of the Lungs

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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