While smoking is one of the leading causes of emphysema, some people diagnosed with this condition have never smoked. Now, a new study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has linked emphysema to another factor: outdoor ambient air pollution.
What Is Emphysema?
Emphysema is a chronic lung condition that falls under the umbrella term chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In emphysema, the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs become damaged. The alveoli rupture to form large, spacious air sacs that hinder the process of exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide when air is inhaled. Additionally, the damaged alveoli cannot exhale air properly, which means old air remains trapped in the lungs, and new air has less space to enter.
The main symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath that develops over time. Emphysema is caused by long-term exposure to irritants, including cigarette smoke, secondhand smoke, indoor and outdoor pollutants, dust and chemical fumes.
What Does the New Study Report?
The most recent study, which was published this year in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), followed 7,071 study participants from 2000-2018. The purpose of the study was to discover a link between long-term exposure to ambient air pollution (ground-level ozone, fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and black carbon) and changes in emphysema. Participants’ emphysema was assessed periodically over the 10 years with CT scans and lung function tests.
Findings revealed the following:
- Higher levels of ground-level ozone resulted in a faster decline of lung function measured by forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1).
- Higher levels of all 4 pollutants resulted in a small but significant increase in emphysema risk.
- Higher levels of all 4 pollutants combined had greater effects than any of the pollutants individually.
From these findings, researchers concluded that long-term exposure to air pollution worsened emphysema and lung function in participants with existing emphysema. Additionally, because higher levels of all 4 pollutants combined had the greatest effects on lung health, researchers concluded that more pollution in the air increases the risk of developing emphysema.
The study results may explain why many people who have never smoked develop emphysema. Today, air pollution is a significant environmental threat to human health. To learn more about how air pollution impacts people living in the United States, read about key findings from the 2019 State of the Air Report.
How Does Cellular Therapy Help Treat Chronic Lung Disease?
While there is no cure for emphysema, treatment options are available. Traditional treatments focus on relieving the symptoms of emphysema, but cellular therapy at Lung Health Institute may be able to slow down the progression of the disease. Cellular therapy uses a patient’s own blood cells and has the potential to reduce chronic airway inflammation and improve lung function. The goal of treatment is to help patients improve or maintain their quality of life and Breathe Easier™.
At Lung Health Institute, we offer all patients a free consultation with one of our health care providers to learn more about the cellular therapy process. Contact one of our patient coordinators today to receive more information or schedule your consultation.