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When Going Outside Could Make You Sick: California Nurses May Be at Risk of Lung Disease

Lung Health Day

Today is Lung Health Day, an awareness day created by the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) centered on the wide variety of diseases and health conditions that can affect one of our most vital organs, the lungs.

When people think of lung health, they usually think of smoking. Not smoking is a no-brainer, however smoking is not the only cause of lung disease — and as public awareness of the hazards of smoking has increased, it’s often led to an unfair stigma against illnesses that affect the lungs. Chances are, you caution your patients against smoking on a daily basis. But not all lung diseases can be attributed to poor health choices. Genetic factors can also play a role, as can environmental factors that aren’t within a person’s control.

For the most part, nurses are pretty healthy people. Most healthcare organizations prohibit staff from smoking, and when you work in medicine, you generally have a good handle on how to take care of yourself. But if you live and work in an area with high levels of air pollution, simply going outside every day could put you at risk for lung cancer, emphysema, COPD, and other pulmonary diseases.

Many of the most polluted regions in the United States are located in California. If you’re reading this, you might live there. Nursing is California’s largest health profession, and the state is home to over 300,000 nurses. Los Angeles and Bakersfield are the top offenders in the air pollution department, but Fresno, Sacramento, and Modesto also suffer from poor outdoor air quality.

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