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Top 5 causes of lung diseases

The lung is one of the most sensitive internal organs in the human body that is frequently exposed to a myriad of external pollutants. This is primarily because of our necessity to breathe irrelevant to the conditions we are exposed to, whether it be safe or not. And increasing air pollution due to different human activities such as vehicles and industries along with unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking has ensured that much of the human population is exposed to risk factors that can cause respiratory illness such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD, Asthma, Lung cancer among others.

Statistically speaking, almost 2 billion people are exposed to toxic smoke from biofuel sources in poorly ventilated homes, 1 billion people are exposed to outdoor pollutants while another 1 billion are exposed to tobacco smoke. These numbers speak out a load on the gravity of the situation that can have detrimental effects on human health specifically due to respiratory diseases.

Although the respiratory illness can affect people among all socio-economic classes, gender, and age-groups, people living in poor living conditions such as poorly ventilated homes are more vulnerable. Those that are exposed to detrimental external pollutants constantly or regular smokers are more likely to have lung infections and diseases than others.

Here in this article we discuss and elaborate upon the top 5 causes of respiratory illness and diseases.

Smoking is the number one cause of respiratory illness in our current day and age. According to the data compiled by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), tobacco smoking is thought to cause nearly 7 million deaths globally every year. Moreover, it is estimated to cause nearly 8 million deaths every year by the year 2030, if the pattern of smoking remains the same. While for each person that dies of smoking, at least, 30 peoples are estimated to live with a serious smoking-related illness. Hence, it is one of the leading causes of global health burden that needs to be addressed at all levels to combat many respiratory as well as other smoking-related diseases that we are facing.

This is because tobacco smoking is the source of many respiratory, heart, and other diseases that are present in the world. Tobacco smoking is the number one cause and risk factor for the development of COPD. Some of the examples of illness attributed to tobacco smoking include cancer, stroke, heart disease, lung diseases such as tuberculosis, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which include emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.

These diseases stemming from smoking present a huge economic burden in our society which is estimated to be 300 billion dollars a year. Not to mention the number of premature deaths in our society along with loss of productivity related to smoking-related illnesses. Thus, if you are a smoker, it’s wise to quit smoking or at least find appropriate measures and get professional help to quit smoking since smoking is injurious to health in ways that you may not be able to comprehend.

Exposure to environmental pollution
Air pollution is a significant contributor to respiratory disease, posing a global health burden. The global mortality rate due to ambient air pollution in 2012 stands for about 3,7 million in 2012 which has nearly tripled from the year 2008 according to the report published by the World Health Organization (WHO). Air pollution, thereby, is currently the 9th leading risk factor for cardiopulmonary mortality in the world. This is mostly because polluted air has a propensity to increase the likelihood of diseases such as lung infections, COPD, asthma, and lung cancer among others such as heart disease.

Almost 9 out of 10 people living in urban areas of the world today are adversely affected by air pollution, making it one of a major public health concern. Air pollution is at a higher than normal level at major urban cities across the globe including Beijing, which boasts increased modern developments with regards to industrialization. Thus, human activities such as industrialization, heavy road traffic, burning of fossil fuels for cooking, power plants, agricultural burnings, and other combustion processes are the major contributors of pollutants in the air. Similarly, particulate matters (PM), ozone (O₃), sulfur dioxide (SO₂), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂), carbon monoxide (CO), and lead are the major air pollutants.

Exposure to occupational pollutants
Even though to a lesser extent compared to indoor and outdoor air pollution, occupational pollutants such as a mixture of silica dust, gas, and exhaust fumes at work are noted to cause some serious respiratory health issues such as COPD. Various occupations require constant exposure to diesel exhaust, fumes from boiler installation and furnace which are detrimental to pulmonary function in the long term. Some of the companies that can be considered as high risk with regards to occupational pollutants are wheel manufacturing companies, boiler installation, construction fields, etc.

Similarly, asbestosis, a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers at work related to insulation, cement, and tiles industries was a major respiratory health concern before the 1970s. After which governments started implementing strict regulations on using and handling of products made up of asbestos.

Thus, if you are working in a work environment that is detrimental to your pulmonary health, wearing a mask to protect your lungs from harmful particulate matters is a simple solution along with awareness to avoid such pollutants on a day to day basis.

Exposure to burning fossil fuel
According to the reports of the World Health Organization (WHO), almost 4,3 million deaths were attributed to household air pollution in the year 2012. There is ample evidence to show that women exposed to burning fossil fuel in the household in the developing countries are at more risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD. Particulate matters in the air originating from the fossil fuel combustion can cause inflammation and impaired lung function in the COPD patients that can further deteriorate pulmonary function.

The situation is even more precarious in the context of a country like that of ours, where almost 85% of households are reliant upon fossil fuel to cook their meal. In addition to that, 15% of Nepalese women are smokers which further exacerbates the situation leading to almost 60% of Nepalese women prone to COPD. Likewise, is the story for most developing countries that have poor living conditions such as poorly ventilated homes and are reliant upon fossil fuel for their meal.

Genetic predisposition
Generally, environmental factors trigger the genetic predisposition that an individual has for respiratory disease. In other words, both genotype and environmental factors together have a complex interplay to initiate and cause most lung diseases such as asthma, COPD, lung cancer, tuberculosis, and sarcoidosis.
Nevertheless, there is a certain respiratory disease, for example, cystic fibrosis, chronic granulomatous disease, primary ciliary dyskinesia which are an exception to these respiratory diseases, as it is wholly genetic regardless of environment.

Thus, if an individual has a family history of such diseases, it’s wise to stay away from environmental triggers such as tobacco smoking, or being exposed to indoors or outdoors air pollutants so that the environmental factor is hugely trimmed down and hence cannot trigger the onset of any respiratory disease.

Centre for Disease Control, Smoking and tobacco use, Fast Facts, Diseases, and Death
Dasom Kim et al (2018) Air pollutants and early origins of respiratory diseases, Chronic Diseases and Translational Medicine, 4(2), pp- (75-94)
European Respiratory Society (ERS), Genetic Susceptibility, European Lung White Book (2019) Lung Disease, U.S. Department of Health and Human Service
Forum for International Respiratory Societies (2017) Global impact of respiratory diseases, 2nd edition
Ozlem Kar Kurt et al (2016) Pulmonary health effects of air pollution, Current opinions on pulmonary medicine
YounMo Cho et al (2015), Work-related COPD after years of occupational exposure, Annals of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
Xu-Qin Jiang et al (2016) Air pollution and chronic airway diseases: what should people know and do? Journal of Thoracic Disease

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Anchor text:  Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD

Anchor Text: respiratory diseases