Air Pollution Is Making Non-Smokers Suffer from Critical Lung Disease

Anju Bisht

, News


Due to uncontrolled pollution, health-related problems are numbered. Now that the population is grasping in smog, Delhi is facing irreversible lung damage due to the poor quality of the air.


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Recently, 58 -year-old Delhiite Mr. Naresh Kumar went to see a pulmonologist, as for the last few days, he has found it difficult to breathe. Naresh had never smoked tobacco and didn’t have a heart condition either. It was shocking for him that he was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).


However, it wasn’t surprising for pulmonologist Dr. Vivek Nangia of Fortis Hospital. As to why Nangia told, “COPD among non-smokers isn’t rare anymore. For the last two to three years, I have been seeing several such cases.”


Where COPD is a progressive life-threatening lung disease that causes breathlessness. In general, stopping exposure to noxious agents like outdoor pollutants or tobacco smoke can result in improvement in lung function and slow or even halt the progression of the disease.


Usually, COPD among non-smokers is linked to prolonged exposure to biomass fuel or industrial pollutants, but the patients we see have been exposed to neither of the two. Dr. Nangia added, “We suspect prolonged exposure to high levels of outdoor pollution behind the increase in COPD among non-smokers.”



According to the WHO document, COPD and its co-morbidities cannot be cured once developed and thus must be treated continuously.



Dr. Randeep Guleria, Director at AIIMS said considering India there isn’t enough data available on the number of persons suffering from COPD from the perspective of non-smokers. He said, “Theoretically, it is possible that long-term exposure to outdoor pollutants can cause the disease. Small children, who live in cities like Delhi where the level of pollution is high through most parts of the year, are most vulnerable. We know for a fact that air pollution affects lung growth and it can certainly lead to COPD and other serious respiratory diseases if the exposure to pollutants remains high.”



Although COPD is not curable, yet the right treatment can relieve symptoms as well as can improve the quality of life and reduce the risk of death. Often people mistake breathlessness and coughing as a sign of old age said Dr. Inder Mohan Chugh, director, interventional pulmonology and sleep medicine at Max Super Specialty Hospital. However, increasing breathlessness is a red flag for COPD.



Dr. Chugh also explained, “COPD is most prominent during winters. The effect of cold weather on the lungs can be extreme and chronic exposure to cold environments is known to cause dramatic and harmful changes to the respiratory system. Hence, it is important that one visits a specialist in case there is a single symptom indicating COPD. A simple spirometry (Pulmonary Function Test) test taken in time could save lives.”

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