Pollution and Health
Dirty air can trigger or provoke progression of asthma and other respiratory illnesses such as emphysema and lung cancer. The World Health Organization maintains that pollution is the leading cause of respiratory diseases (Tarlo, 2014).
Asthma is triggered by many environmental factors, including dust, pollen particles, smoke, organic materials or compounds such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide or carbon monoxide. Ozone, a notorious trigger of asthma, is generated by reactions between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds. Industrial units, electric appliances, vehicular exhaust and solvents are common sources of ozone.
According to the National Center for Environmental Health, over one billion emergency visits to health facilities are attributable to asthma (Kim, 2013), characterized by shortness of breath, wheezing and tightness in the chest. Asthmatic inflammation of the airways causes swelling and tightening of muscles resulting in obstruction of air in the lungs. This leads to tightness in the chest, wheezing, and coughing. Genetic predisposition to hyper-immunological response to one or more allergenic pollutants — a condition called atopy — is a major risk factor in the development of asthma.
While there is no cure for the ailment, proper diagnosis and care can improve the quality of life of a patient. Tarlo (2014) maintains that occupational asthma or “work-exacerbated asthma” remains the most common type of asthma caused and triggered by gasses, fumes, and dust or harmful substances while at work. According to Tarlo (2014), many patients develop and begin experiencing asthma-related symptoms at their places of work. Workers with a history of asthma typically experience increasing symptoms and irritation while at their workplace. The onset may occur after many months or years of exposure to substances such as ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and petroleum products (Tarlo, 2014).
According to allergists and immunologists, removal from exposure to allergens is the best way to protect the lungs from further damage (Pawankar, 2014). After careful diagnosis by an allergist, a treatment plan can be drawn up. This may call for changes in living or working environment or even relocating to another geographical location.
Apart from identifying allergens and avoiding exposure to them, various drug therapies can be resorted to. These may include immunotherapy against specific allergens or the use of bronchodilators to reduce inflammation of the airways. Corticosteroid inhalers are known to relieve inflammation and clear mucus from the airways. Installation of HEPA filters in living and working environments can go a long way in controlling air-borne pollutants that trigger asthmatic attacks.
Kim, B. J., Seo, J. H., Jung, Y. H., Kim, H. Y., Kwon, J. W., Kim, H. B., … & Leem, J. H. (2013). Air pollution interacts with past episodes of bronchiolitis in the development of asthma. Allergy, 68(4), 517-523.
Pawankar, R. (2014). Allergic diseases and asthma: a global public health concern and a call to action. World Allergy Organization Journal, 7(1), 1.
Tarlo, S. M., & Lemiere, C. (2014). Occupational asthma. New England Journal of Medicine, 370(7), 640-649.