Long-term exposure to air pollution now linked to increase emphysema

(Excerpts from NIH): Long-term exposure to air pollution was linked to increases in emphysema between 2000 and 2018, according to a new study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The study is published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The relationship between various air pollutants and emphysema was measured through computed tomography (CT) lung imaging and lung function testing. Consistent results were found in these varied metropolitan regions: Winston-Salem, North Carolina; St. Paul, Minnesota; New York City; Baltimore; Chicago; and Los Angeles. Participants came from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), a medical research study, and involved more than 7,000 men and women from the six localities. Researchers measured all major air pollutants with longitudinal increases in percent emphysema revealed by more than 15,000 CT scans acquired from 2000 to 2018.

“The combined health effect of multiple air pollutants –  ozone, fine particles known as PM2.5, nitrogen oxides, and black carbon – was greater than when the pollutants were assessed individually,” said Bonnie Joubert, Ph.D., a scientific program director at NIEHS. “With the study’s long-running duration, repeated CT scans allowed analysis of changes in emphysema over time.”

“These findings may offer one explanation for why emphysema is found in some people who never smoked,” said James Kiley, Ph.D., NHLBI’s director of the Division of Lung Diseases. “The study’s results, duration, and timing offer insight into the long-term effects of air pollution on the U.S. population.”

Emphysema, usually associated with cigarette smoking, is a chronic disease in which lung tissue is destroyed and unable to effectively transfer oxygen in the body. It is a debilitating disease and is not curable, but treatments help manage the disease. Understanding and controlling emphysema may lead to better treatment.

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