COPD and the Environment

Indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure has been associated with COPD. The most prominent indoor exposure is from tobacco smoke but the use of biomass fuels inside without proper ventilation, such as wood burning stoves, is a major exposure worldwide. The most common non-occupational outdoor exposures are air particles (particulate matter or PM10 & PM2.5), ozone, pesticides, and sulfur dioxide from automobiles and industrial sources. Occupational exposures such as fumes, gas, and dusts have been associated with COPD.

People with COPD are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, at a lower level than people without COPD. Exposure to air pollution has been linked to increases in COPD-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

There are ways to prevent COPD.  Avoid respiratory infections, tobacco smoke, and home and workplace air pollutants to prevent developing COPD. Early detection of COPD can improve health outcomes and quality of life. A simple test, called spirometry, can be used to measure pulmonary—or lung—function and detect COPD in anyone with breathing problems.

Treatment of COPD requires a careful evaluation by a physician. COPD treatment can decrease the frequency and severity of symptoms, and increase exercise tolerance. For those who smoke, the most important part of treatment is smoking cessation. Avoiding tobacco smoke and removing other air pollutants from the patient's home or workplace are also important. Symptoms such as coughing or wheezing can be treated with medication. Pulmonary rehabilitation is an individualized treatment program that teaches COPD management strategies to increase quality of life. Plans may include breathing strategies, energy-conserving techniques, exercise training, and nutritional counseling. The flu can cause serious problems in people with COPD. Vaccination during flu season is recommended and respiratory infections should be treated with antibiotics, if appropriate. Patients who have low blood oxygen levels are often given supplemental oxygen.