Outdoor Air Pollution and COPD-related Hospital Admissions

Outdoor Air Pollution Is Associated with Increase in Emergency Department Visits and Hospital Admissions

What is Air Pollution? An air pollutant is a substance in the air that can have affect humans and the ecosystem. The substance can be solid particles, liquid droplets, or gases. A pollutant can be of natural origin or man-made.
Particulate matter coming out of smokestacks in city

Particulate matter coming out of smokestacks in city

There are three major air pollutants. 1. Particulate matter (PM) are tiny particles of solid or liquid suspended in a gas. Some particulates occur naturally, originating from volcanoes, dust storms, forest and grassland fires, living vegetation, and sea spray. Burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, power plants and various industrial processes also generate significant amounts of aerosols. 2. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are expelled from high temperature combustion, and are also produced during thunderstorms and by electric discharge.  They
Particulates in the air causing shades of grey and pink during sunset

Particulates in the air causing shades of grey and pink during sunset

can be seen as a brown haze dome above cities. It has a reddish-brown toxic gas has a characteristic sharp, biting odor. 3. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is produced by volcanoes and in various industrial processes. Coal and petroleum often contain sulfur compounds, and their combustion generates sulfur dioxide.    Study: Dr. DeVries and colleagues at Department of Work Environment, University of Massachusetts in Lowell reviewed 37 published studies to evaluate any association between short-term exposures of the three major air pollutants and COPD-related use of health care services. This included over 1 million COPD-related events. The study was published on-line in the journal COPD August 26,2016. Results: Increases of PM, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide were associated with 2.1% to 4.2% increases in Emergency Department visits and hospital admissions related to COPD (shortness of breath or a flare-up). Similar effects were found for each pollutant and COPD-related mortality. Conclusions: The authors concluded that air pollution presents an on-going threat to the health of those with COPD. My Comments: Outdoor air pollution conditions are reported daily as the Air Quality Index (AQI). Be sure to check on outdoor air pollution in your area.
  • AQI on the Internet. An AirNow Web site provides easy access to air quality information. On the web site, you will find daily AQI forecasts and real-time AQI conditions for over 300 cities across the United States, with links to more detailed state and local air quality Web sites. AIRNow’s reports are displayed as maps you can use to quickly determine if the air quality is unhealthy near you.
  • AQI via e-mail. You can sign up for a free email service using EnviroFlash (www.enviroflash.info). This will alert you via e-mail when air quality is forecast to be a concern in your area.
  • AQI in the media. Many local media—television, radio, and newspapers—and some national media (The Weather Channel) provide daily air quality reports, often as part of the weather forecast.
If the air quality is “bad” in your area, stay indoors as much as possible. Wait to go shopping or do other activities when the air quality has improved.

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.