Air pollution – the enemy of healthy lungs

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The prevalence of COPD is increasing and affects around 12% of the world’s population. | Image credit: AP

With the onset of autumn, Delhi, the country’s capital, is like a gas chamber of highly polluted toxic air with emissions from fireworks and stubble adding fuel to the fire and breathing in the thick smog that envelops the lower atmosphere, which is full of harmful particles and Gas is enough, even for a few minutes, to send shudders into the subject’s spine. As usual, the sight and anger of the polluted air kindles the passion of the public and the government machinery is awakening from its slumber and taking some urgent action to cool the passion, but the anger of air pollution continues unchecked. The consequences of acute and chronic pollution exposure are far too serious as the elderly, children and people with chronic respiratory diseases remain very susceptible to the anger of inhaling highly polluted and toxic air.

Air pollution started the day humans began to exploit nature and the industrial revolution accelerated the process through unregulated emissions from burning fossil fuels like coal and oil, the main sources of energy, and now the world is on the verge of being entitled to it a major global health and well-being disaster in severe crisis, justifying the urgent implementation of effective measures to contain the growing threat.

Air pollution is a global phenomenon and according to the WHO, 8.7 million people died worldwide in 2019, exceeding the combined mortality from smoking and malaria, with India contributing 2.5 million to the death rate and nearly 4 million deaths annually from air pollution alone Interiors.

Air pollution is a leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which makes the lungs weak and unhealthy, and while on the 17th “aiming to reduce the burden of COPD, one of the leading causes of death worldwide, also in the face of COVID- 19 pandemic. There is no doubt that there is never a more important time than now to focus on lung health through preventive measures like exercise, vaccination, pollution prevention and smoking cessation, since respiratory diseases like COPD are a man-made disaster and are highly preventable and even treatable if detected at an early stage.

COPD is a progressive and debilitating disease characterized by persistent respiratory symptoms and restrictions on airflow due to abnormalities in the airways or air sacs, usually caused by significant exposure to harmful particles or gases. Smoking is a major risk factor, but what is often less emphasized is the role of pollution and occupational exposure as major risk factors. While cigarette smoke is harmful, it is often ignored that persistent high levels of pollution is the equivalent of smoking 10 to 15 cigarettes a day and that air pollution causes more premature deaths than tobacco smoke in India. It is therefore not surprising that if the chest is weak, even a slight exposure to highly polluted air is sufficient to trigger an acute respiratory emergency.

The prevalence of COPD is increasing, affecting approximately 12 percent of the world population with more than 3 million deaths annually, and is associated with a high incidence of serious comorbidities related to air pollution and chronic smoking such as heart disease, musculoskeletal disorders, malignancy, anxiety and depression . Although it is common among middle-aged and elderly smokers, it affects even non-smokers, including women and children, especially those who live in crowded and poorly ventilated homes.

The problem due to COPD is acute in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), which are responsible for 80 percent of global deaths and indoor air pollution from coal or biomass fuels such as wood, animal dung and crop residues, while cooking and heating remain the largest risk factor.

Unfortunately, the diagnosis of COPD is often overlooked in the early stages of the disease because most people with it remain relatively asymptomatic and early respiratory symptoms are often ignored by the patient. Advanced COPD is difficult to treat and an acute exacerbation is associated with a high risk of death and the only treatment, a lung transplant, is extremely difficult. Despite many advances in the treatment of COPD, the only intervention that is beneficial for the patient is smoking cessation and breathing in unpolluted, colorless, odorless, and tasteless air with the right amount of life-giving oxygen to rejuvenate the body and mind . There is no doubt – prevention is key and avoiding risk factors, regular medication and rehabilitation are essential to maintain the quality of life of those affected. The burden on health care and the costs associated with treating COPD are enormous, which even the most advanced countries simply cannot afford.

Experts know about the negative effects of air pollution and climate change on human health and disease, yet there is no one-stop solution to replace highly polluting conventional energy with sustainable green energy, and the global measures taken so far in this regard are completely inadequate in terms of pollutant emissions to reduce. The World Health Organization’s Action Plan to Promote Clean and Safe Intervention for COPD Prevention through the Clean Household Energy Solutions Toolkit (CHEST) can only be successful with the collective will of all parties involved.

Time is of the essence and the Conference of the Parties (COP) on climate change have focused on green energy sources to prevent climate change on the 26th. To breathe pure air is a basic right of every living being that cannot be wished away through cosmetic changes and that concrete preventive measures should begin immediately.

Lt. Gen. Retd Dr. Prof. BNBM Prasad is a guest post. Views expressed are personal.


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