Air pollution ups COPD cases in metros, say docs

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is broad term to describe progressive lung disease that may include emphysema, bronchitis, breathlessness and irreversible asthma and so on. With Delhi’s smog becoming a discussion in the entire country, a burning question about non-regulated air pollution is in front of us. My Medical Mantra tries to understand how air pollution is a leading cause of rising COPD in metro cities


Delhi’s smog has become the topic of discussion these days. With air pollution becoming one of the prominent causes for COPD, doctors across the countries say it is worrisome. Most cases of COPD are caused by inhaling pollutants; that includes smoking (cigarettes, pipes, cigars, etc.), and second-hand smoke. Owing to which, people experience breathlessness and are at increased risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and other health conditions.

“We get a lot people coming in with severe issues of breathlessness and symptoms of COPD. These are people who haven’t had any medical history of breathlessness, or asthma,” said Dr GC Khilnani, Professor and Head, Department of Pulmonary Medicine and Sleep Disorders, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi.

He added, “When we talk of air pollution, we are witnessing a rise here. People, who already have had COPD, are finding it very difficult to survive with medicines and inhaler too. COPD in some cases is so severe that the inhaler becomes less effective or ineffective. That is why, the air quality needs to be improved and really looked into.”

Doctors across the country say that there is an unmistakable rise in the number of COPD cases in the country.  “We are witnessing 20 to 30 per cent rise in the number of non-smoking patients with COPD. Air pollution is the major factor linked to non-smoking COPD. In metro cities outdoor pollution is a major cause linked to the rise in non-smoking COPD,” said Dr Prashant Chhajed, a leading pulmonologist from Nanavati Hospital, Mumbai.

In order to prevent these attacks doctors’ advised precautions. “In current season, it is better to avoid morning and evening walks. It is advisable to go for walks, during the day. During high levels of pollution, use masks N95 masks,” added Dr Chhajed.

Dr Mandar Kubal, an infectious disease expert from Infectious Diseases & Pulmonary Care, Chembur advised, to consume warm fluids like tea or soups. “Keep yourself warm. People, who step out early morning, should protect themselves from cold as there is a lot of smog and dust. Build up your immunity. Don’t go out on empty stomach. Have a healthy breakfast. Flu shots are recommended for people who are asthmatic, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and elderly people,” said Kubal.

What is COPD?

COPD is a lung ailment characterised by a consistent blockage of airflow from the lungs. It is an under-diagnosed, life-threatening lung disease that interferes with normal breathing and is not fully reversible. COPD sets in as progressive disease and becomes a chronic disease. According to WHO report in 2015, more than 3 million people died of COPD, which is almost equal to 6 % of all deaths globally.

The primary cause of COPD is tobacco smoke (including second-hand or passive exposure). Other risk factors include:

Indoor air pollution

Outdoor air pollution

Occupational dusts and chemicals

Frequent lower respiratory infections during childhood