The medical community has long recognized chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as a significant problem. However, a study indicates that people are at a significantly higher risk of the disease than previously estimated. According to a team of Canadian researchers, 25 percent of all people age 35 and up will develop some form of COPD, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
The research team at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto used local health data on more than 13 million people ranging from 35-80 years of age. The study used 14 years’ worth of data, and over the course of those 14 years, the researchers identified nearly 600,000 cases of COPD.
The results indicated that 35-year-old females were three times more likely to get COPD than breast cancer. It also indicated that 35-year-old males were three times more likely to get COPD than prostate cancer. Considering the prevalence of both, these are staggering numbers. The study also revealed, not surprisingly, that poor people and those in rural areas were at greater risk.
The team published their findings in the special European Respiratory Society issue of the Lancet, a UK scientific journal. The researchers stressed that COPD is a much larger burden on society than we have ever imagined, and we need to put as much focus on this issue as possible. This includes public funding to combat the disease directly and through smoking cessation programs and the like.
A separate study published in the same Lancet issue brought with it some bad news: Airway bypasses, experimental and minimally invasive procedures, have little effect on severe emphysema. There had been some previous indication that this procedure would provide relief where relief is hard to find. With severe emphysema, people struggle to breathe to the point that they cannot eat, bathe or even walk.
The Causes of COPD
For the individual, the good news is that there are four primary causes of COPD, and each of them is preventable. Once COPD manifests, however, it is not reversible. At a minimum, COPD disrupts breathing, and makes life uncomfortable. At worst, COPD has effects such as those described earlier regarding severe emphysema.
There is a genetic component in play. You can’t change your family history. However, the genetic aspect only makes you more likely to develop COPD. Even with a genetic inclination, you can control your fate by controlling your environment. In the following sections, we’ll consider the four main causes, and what you can do about them.
This one is easy: Don’t smoke. Direct inhalation of nicotine smoke is the leading cause of COPD. In fact, at least 80% and as many as 90% of all afflicted are chronic smokers. That’s overwhelming. Pipe and cigar smokers aren’t off the hook. Those types of smoking are significant contributors too. If you’re a smoker, do whatever it takes to quit now. We all recognize how difficult it is, but you must do it, for yourself and for your family.
Avoid secondhand smoke as much as possible. At home, force guests to smoke outdoors away from windows and doors. This is serious business, and the reason that states throughout the country are enacting tough secondhand smoke laws. According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke causes nearly 3,500 deaths each year in the US alone. That is simply unacceptable.
For years, we’ve known that there is a link between air pollution and COPD. Thanks to increased technology and better techniques, recent studies indicate that it may be a more dangerous trigger than ever realized. What’s scariest about air pollution is that our homes are not the safe havens we once believed them to be. While outdoor air pollution can be dangerous, studies show that indoor air is even worse, unless the building has some form of air purification, preferably HEPA and activated carbon.
On worksites, there are numerous causes of COPD: silica, coal mine dust, cotton dust, grain dust and so forth. Employees walk a fine line between budgets and employee health. From a purely financial standpoint, the economic burden on society from this occupational exposure is significant. Therefore, government must continue to be aggressive with laws that enforce safe workplaces. From a civil standpoint, all employees have the right to feel safe within the context of the workplace. Of course, we each have the responsibility to be our own best safety and health advocate.
The Bottom Line on COPD
According to the American Lung Association, more than 10 million adults are diagnosed with COPD each year. It is one of the leading causes of death in the USA, and it steals 120,000 American lives annually. The ALA estimates that by 2020, COPD will be the third leading cause of death in the world. When you consider that it is primarily preventable, these are truly staggering numbers.
There are ways to protect you and your family in the home: a portable air purifier with HEPA and activated carbon filtration. A HEPA filter removes 99.97% of all airborne particles including dust, smoke, mold spores, pollen, pet dander, bacteria, particulates from traffic exhaust and so forth. The activated carbon component removes chemicals, gases and odors. Since most people spend as much as 90% of their time indoors, HEPA provides significant protection against the pollutants that cause COPD.
A HEPA air purifier has many other health benefits as well. Hospitals throughout the world use it, and asthma and allergy sufferers often relieve their symptoms by using it. This is an excellent and affordable investment in your family’s health. The threat of COPD is very real. Don’t take risks.
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