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Long-Term Air Pollution Exposure Linked To Increased Emphysema Risk: Study

Long-term exposures to certain types of air pollution causes lung damage similar to smoking a pack of cigarettes every day for 29 years, , according to the findings of a new study.

In a study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers warn that air pollution exposure may increase the risk of emphysema, even if an individual does not smoke cigarettes.

Researchers conducted a study between 2000 and 2018, including 6,800 participants in 6 U.S. metropolitan regions, including adults 45 to 84 years living in Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore, St. Paul, New York City, and Winston-Salem. Participants were followed up for an average of 10 years as part of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) Air and Lung Studies.

Levels of air pollution were taken outside their homes annually; this included measures of ozone, fine particulate matter (PM) 2.5, oxides of nitrogen, and black carbon. Participants in the new study were exposed to 10-25 parts per billion of ground level ozone annually outside their homes. Ground level ozone is the main ingredient in smog. Computed tomography (CT) scans were taken at the start of the study and then at least five additional times throughout the studies for each participant.

According to the findings, concentrations of ozone and nitrogen oxides were associated with increases in the occurrence of emphysema and decreased lung functioning. Long-term increases of three parts per billion of ground level ozone increased the level of lung damage. The lung damage seen was similar to that seen in smokers who smoke a pack of cigarettes every day for 29 years.

The combined effect of the pollutants was worse than if they were assessed individually. Other studies have shown air pollution exposure can increase the risk of chronic kidney disease, increased incidence of respiratory problems, increased risk of miscarriage in pregnant women and increased risk of heart dysfunction during the exposed infant’s childhood. Other studies have also shown exposure to moderate levels of air pollution can cause lung damage similar to the damage caused by smoking.

Particulate matter has gained some media attention in recent years as studies have shown exposure to PM 2.5 leads to more than 30,000 deaths each year.

This may be why emphysema is seen in people who don’t smoke, despite emphysema being considered a smoker’s disease, researchers theorized.

Emphysema is a chronic disease caused by smoking which damages the lung tissue. The lungs are then unable to function effectively to transfer oxygen throughout the body.

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