Air pollution is a known cause of lung disease. If you’re a veteran nurse who’s been working for decades, you may have noticed the growing rates of childhood asthma. Over the years, you’ve probably run into more and more pediatric patients with this condition, and it’s very possible that air pollution is playing a major role.
This is a growing global health concern, especially in places like urban China where heavy industrialization and poor environmental regulations lead to overwhelming smog. If you work as a nurse in a polluted area, lung disease is a real threat.
Air Pollutants and Human Health
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified six key pollutants that impact outdoor air quality, which can lead to detrimental health effects.
- Carbon monoxide & tropospheric ozone.
- Nitrogen oxides.
- Particulate matter.
- Sulfur oxides.
Ever since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, air pollution has presented serious risks to human health. Today, more patients than ever are presenting with asthma, COPD, and other lung conditions, especially in regions like California that have serious problems with air pollution.
The Link Between Asthma and Air Pollution
Air pollution is known to aggravate asthma and trigger asthma attacks, but it may also contribute to rising rates of this respiratory disease. The prevalence of asthma has increased by 28 percent since 2001. Suburban communities in the United States have experienced greater exposure to urban smog, and today, the American Lung Association reports that nearly half of US residents live in areas with health-threatening levels of tropospheric ozone and other air pollution. High tropospheric ozone levels are correlated with local rates of asthma and other lung diseases.
Particulate pollution and other air pollution may also put people at greater risk of lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and emphysema. Your patients who already live with these conditions will often find that exposure to polluted air exacerbates their symptoms.
What Can Be Done?
Reducing air pollution can help mitigate its detrimental effects for human pulmonary health. Environmental regulations and emissions testing play a central role in reducing pollution, but ultimately, fossil fuels are a large part of the underlying problem. Eventually, new alternative fuel sources could be developed, to the point where they could replace fossil fuels. Improving public transportation can also help reduce emissions, and health concerns should be integrated into urban planning to reduce exposure to pollution in residential areas.
There’s no easy answer to the problem of air pollution, but new energy technologies are continually being developed. Eventually, dependence on fossil fuels will hopefully be eliminated entirely, in favor of cleaner energy sources that don’t emit harmful compounds that cause or exacerbate lung disease. But for now, nurses nationwide will continue to see growing numbers of patients with COPD, asthma, and other respiratory conditions.