World COPD Day 2020: Role of Indoor Pollution in Causing This Chronic Lung Disease in Adults
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Every year, 18 November is observed as World COPD Day to help spread awareness as well as start discussions that may be able to reduce the burden of this disease. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a critical condition that obstructs our breathing process. COPD is a result of long-term exposure to compounds that irritate our lungs. Two major conditions come under COPD i.e. chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The most common victims of COPD are middle-aged and older adults who smoke. Usually, bronchitis and emphysema occur together and the severity of the disease varies from person to person.
Role of pollution in COPD
Apart from direct smoking, secondhand smoke or passive smoking also contributes to COPD in adults. However, this does not only refer to outdoor pollution since indoor pollution can also be a cause of COPD. Globally, the joint effects of household and ambient air pollution are responsible for about seven million premature deaths every year. According to The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the air that we breathe in homes and other buildings can be even more polluted than the outdoor air.
In most developing countries, many people still use solid fuels such as coals for cooking. Solid fuels used in cooking and kerosene in open fires directly harm our lungs. The sources of indoor pollution are things that release gases or particles into the air such as; wooden stove, burners, water heaters, some dryers etc. These indoor appliances release gases like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide, which increase the risk of asthma and other respiratory diseases. While staying indoors, we deal with some biological pollution as well, which includes mould, pollen, pet dander and particles from dust mites and cockroaches. To kill mosquitoes and other insects, we use insect killer coils and repellants sprays, which adversely affect our breathing system. Some building materials like asbestos are also dangerous for the health of our respiratory organs.
Ozone generators are sold as air cleaners to be used in our houses now. These air-cleaning devices generate ozone gas purposefully. No research has proved yet that these devices are capable of removing dust and other harmful chemicals from the air. Ironically, these so-called air cleaners are affecting our lungs because we are inhaling ozone which is detrimental to the well being of our lungs.
Additionally, the presence of excess moisture accelerates the growth and condensation of the living air pollutants.
Controlling indoor pollutants
There are a few measures that can be taken to reduce the level of pollution indoors. We should always try to use improved appliances while cooking. It is essential that we control and minimise the sources of smoke within the walls of our living space. We have to try and keep the humidity level of our homes below 50%, which can be done with the help of humidifiers. In the kitchen, it’s better to use exhaust fans to keep the moisture level under control. We need to avoid excessive buying of pesticides, bathroom cleaners and cockroach and mosquito killers. Items with little or no aerosol release should be preferred as much as possible.
Lastly, we have to develop knowledge about the common air pollutants. We have to adopt simple and affordable methods to improve our indoor air quality.
This article was written by Dr Manoj Goel, Director, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital, Gurugram.
For more information, read our article on Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
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