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Outdoor air pollution decreases lung function

Outdoor air pollution increases the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), speeds up the aging process, and causes declines in lung function, according to a new study that adds to a growing body of research proving the dangers of air pollution. 

COPD, a condition where inflammation in the lungs makes breathing difficult, is the third leading cause of death worldwide, according to the Global Burden of Disease project

The number of deaths due to COPD are expected to increase in the coming years. 

In a new study published in the European Respiratory Journal, researchers from the University of Leicester set out to thoroughly examine how outdoor air pollution impacts respiratory health. 

“There are surprisingly few studies that look at how air pollution affects lung health,” said Anna Hansell, a member of the research team. “To try and address this, we assessed more than 300,000 people using data from the UK Biobank study to examine whether air pollution exposure was linked to changes in lung function, and whether it affected participants’ risk of developing COPD.” 

An air pollution model was used to calculate outdoor air pollution levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), particulate matter, and nitrogen dioxide that people enrolled in the UK Biobank study were exposed to. 

Data from the Biobank study included data from health questionnaires and spirometry tests measuring lung function. 

The researchers used the Biobank data and conducted tests to investigate the impact of long-term exposure to different levels of pollutants on lung function. 

Each increase of five micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 correlated with reduced lung function comparable to two years of aging. 

In areas where the participants were exposed to PM2.5 levels above what is recommended by the World Health Organization, COPD prevalence was four times higher compared to homes where second-hand smoke was present

“In one of the largest analyses to date, we found that outdoor air pollution exposure is directly linked to lower lung function and increased COPD prevalence,” said Hansell. “We found that people exposed to higher levels of pollutants had lower lung function equivalent to at least a year of aging.”

The researcher found that lower-income households were more affected by outdoor air pollution compared to higher income residents. 

“Air pollution had approximately twice the impact on lung function decline and three times the increased COPD risk on lower-income participants compared to higher-income participants who had the same air pollution exposure,” said Hansell.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer 

Image Credit: Adam Cowell/Shutterstock

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