Air Pollution and COPD Hospitalizations and Mortality

Short-term Exposure to Air Pollution Is “Bad” for COPD

Background: Air pollution is a general term for increased particulate matter in the air that we breathe. It consists of microscopic solid or liquid matter suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere. Sources of particulate matter can be man-made or natural. Overall, particulate matter can adversely affect human health. Particulates are the worst form of air pollution due to their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs causing permanent mutations in DNA, heart attacks, and premature deaths. If inhaled, particulate matter that is 10 micrometers or less in size (diameter) can reach the lungs.  This is abbrevaited PM10.  Even smaller size particulate matter, like PM2.5, can penetrate deeper into the small breathing tubes (airways) and reach the air sacs (alveoli). Study: In the February 2016 issue of the journal CHEST,  Dr. Li and colleagues from Tongji University School of Medicine in Shanghai, China, analyzed a total of 18 studies that examined the short-term exposure to particulate matter in the air and COPD outcomes.  They selected studies that had measured PM2.5 in the air and COPD hospitalizations and death for 7 days after exposure in different countries throughout the world.     Results: Short-term exposure was associated with an increase in COPD hospitalizations (+ 3.1%) and mortality (+2.5%) from 0 – 7 days after exposure. My Comment: The authors point out that PM2.5 is more harmful to health than is PM10 because the smaller particles can be inhaled more deeply into the lungs.  Particulate matter causes oxidative stress and inflammation.  It is likely that this process caused worsening of symptoms (called an exacerbation) that led to the increases in hospitalization and death in some with COPD.
Particulate matter coming out of smokestacks in city

Particulate matter coming out of smokestacks in city

What can you do to avoid inhaling PM?  Each day check  the air quality where you live or where you are visiting.  If the air quality is “bad,” try to stay indoors if possible and use air conditioning if it hot. If you go outdoors, limit the time and wear a mask to block inhaling some of the particulate matter.
Woman wearing barrier mask

Woman wearing barrier mask to reduce inhaling particulat matter

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.