A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that fracking may worsen the condition of asthma in residents living near oil and gas drilling sites. Asthma treatments were nearly four times more common in patients living near sites with more or larger active wells.
Fracking is actually hydraulic fracturing, “a technique for extracting oil and gas by injecting water, sand and chemicals into wells at high pressure to crack rock.” This leads to environmental effects, such as, “exhaust, dust and noise from heavy truck traffic transporting water and other materials, and from drilling rigs and compressors.” Multiple U.S. states have benefited from the high amounts of oil and gas produced this process.
The study’s lead author and researcher at John Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, Sara Rasmussen, claims that the results stem from the, “said pollution and stress from the noise caused by fracking.”
Over 25 million individuals in the U.S. have asthma, which causes symptoms including, “wheezing, breathing difficulties and chest tightness.” Symptoms may flare up if an individual is exposed to air pollution, dust, and/or stress. Research has shown increased air pollution in areas with high levels of oil and gas drilling.
Over 6,200 fracking wells were drilled in Pennsylvania from 2005 to 2012. Researchers retrieved nearly 36,000 asthma patients’ electronic health records (EHRs) throughout that time. The EHRs were accessed from the Geisinger Health System that incorporates over 40 counties in the state of Pennsylvania. “Evidence of asthma attacks included new prescriptions for steroid medicines, emergency-room treatment for asthma and asthma hospitalizations.”
Throughout the study, over 20,000 oral steroid prescriptions were ordered, nearly “5,000 asthma hospitalizations and almost 2,000 ER asthma visits.” The results revealed that these outcomes were, “50 percent to four times more common,” in patients with asthma that lived closer to an area with an increased rate or larger wells.
Those living approximately 12 miles from the wells experienced the highest risk for asthma attacks, while those living 40 miles away experienced the lowest risk.
"Asthma is a huge problem," Dr. Norman H. Edelman, senior scientific adviser for the American Lung Association, said. "Anything we can do to elucidate the causes will be very useful."
A study released in August revealed information on the implications of air quality in Southern California. The study was conducted by the American Thoracic Society, “a group of health-care professionals that focuses on understanding pulmonary diseases, critical illnesses and sleep-related breathing disorders”, and New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management.
It is believed that Southern California’s poor air quality results in hundreds of deaths each year. This is due to the fact that pollution levels in this area surpass safety levels.
Areas with high mortality rates related to air pollution include:
- Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metropolitan area: 808 deaths per year (highest in nation)
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale area: 619 deaths per year
- Santa Ana-Irvine: 64 deaths per year
Throughout the United States, air pollution-related deaths reach nearly 9,330 per year. This rate is, “comparable to the number of lives lost annually to drunken driving.”
The data that was used for the study was based on air pollution rates, “for both fine particle and ozone levels in U.S. metropolitan areas recorded in 2011, 2012 and 2013.”
An electronic analysis was used to estimate the rates of deaths and illnesses that considered the link between epidemiological studies and the health effects related to air pollution exposure. The researchers claimed that the results found are conservative as they did not include cancer-related deaths or deaths related to chronic illnesses in their study.
The website, www.HealthoftheAir.org, was also created by the researchers. The site provides individuals with the opportunity to enter their zip code to receive information on the, “estimated number of deaths and illness in regions throughout the nation.”
“Dr. Ahmet Baydur, a pulmonary expert and professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine,” claimed that those who have the highest risk are individuals with lungs that have been damaged by smoking and those with conditions such as, “emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and severe asthma.” People who use portable oxygen tanks for treatment are also at risk.
Badyur explains that air pollution results in inflammation, which causes, “mucus and swelling that blocks internal air passageways.” This inflammation has the potential to trigger heart attacks. He also claims that cost of reducing air pollution, “is less than the cost for health care and lost productivity associated with bad air.”
Mobile devices, coupled with wearable or environmental sensors, may provide chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients with the timely and valuable information they need to avoid high-pollution environments. That is according to a recent study published in the International Journal of Computational Intelligence Studies, “Identifying risky environments for COPD patients using smartphones and internet of things objects.”
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the National Technical University of Athens, tested a system architecture that pulled together data from sensors linked to wireless networks, weather forecasts and the smart phone itself. The data collected was then incorporated in a framework that evaluates and alerts the COPD patient for potentially risky environmental conditions in the area.
While this system has not been developed for widespread use, systems like the one tested may help to limit exposure to air pollutants such as sulphur and nitrogen oxides, which can lead to exacerbations and worsening of the chronic lung conditions. Researchers note that once developed this type of mobile application could be effective for both COPD and emphysema patients, as well as those who suffer from asthma.
Armed with the results of the study, researchers are now in the process of creating software that could allow users to collect data from specific sensors that are relevant to them and their current disease state. In addition, they are exploring the possibility of a system that collects data from other users and pushes information to others when they enter a high-risk environment.
Dust storms have an adverse effect on emergency hospital admissions for people suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to a recent study out of China.
The study, which was published in the journal Respirology, was lead by professor T.W. Wong, MBBS, MSc, FFPH, of The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Wong and his colleagues studied data on daily emergency admissions to major hospitals in Hong Kong for respiratory diseases, as well as indices of air pollutants and meteorological variables from January 1998 to December 2002.
The researchers identified five dust storms during the period and made comparisons to the daily emergency admissions for respiratory diseases using independent analysis. Results showed that significant increases in emergency hospital admissions due to COPD were found two days after an identified dust storm.
The researchers believe that this suggests that the coarse particles encountered during dust storms have an adverse affect on lung health, particularly in patients with COPD.
Dust storms in East Asia and South China are caused by wind-blown dust that travels long distances from North China. The concentrations of coarse particles — those with a diameter ranging from 2.5 micrometers to 10 micrometers — can reach very high levels.
“Our findings show a need for timely warning for patients with chronic lung diseases to avoid exposure to air pollution when a dust storm is imminent,” said researcher Wilson W.S. Tam.
Early Exposure to Secondhand Smoke May Increase Risk for Emphysema
New research from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health suggests that children who are exposed to secondhand smoke face a higher risk of developing early emphysema as they mature into nonsmoking adults.
Researchers came to this conclusion after conducting CT scans on 1,781 non-smokers from six United States communities, approximately half of whom grew up in homes with at least one smoker. The scans detected a difference between the lungs of participants who lived with a smoker and those who did not, particularly in the number of emphysema-like lung pixels.
For participants who lived with two or more smokers as a child, an average of 20% of scan pixels were emphysema-like, compared with 18% for those who lived with one regular smoker and 17% for those who said that they did not live with a regular smoker as a child.
Previous studies have found that childhood exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) affects perinatal and childhood health outcomes. That exposure is believed to also affect adult respiratory health outcomes, including lung function and respiratory symptoms. However, the results of this study suggest that children’s lungs may never fully recover from the early-life exposure to ETS.
“Some known harmful effects of tobacco smoke are short term, and this new research suggests that effects of tobacco smoke on the lungs may also persist for decades,” said Gina Lovasi, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, and lead author. “However, emphysema may be a more sensitive measure of damage compared with lung function in this relatively healthy cohort.”
The study does not provide information on the time of the ETS exposure during childhood, making it difficult to distinguish whether exposure was in utero. However, the association between childhood ETS and early emphysema among participants whose mothers did not smoke suggests that the effects detected are due to smoke exposure in the home rather than in utero alone. Full Story
Short- and long-term exposure to air pollution in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other respiratory diseases can lead to increased risk of hospitalizations. That is according to “Acute and Chronic Effects of Particles on Hospital Admissions in New-England,” a study published in the journal PLos ONE on April 17, 2012.
While many studies have reporting significant associations between exposure to particle pollution, also known as particulate matter (PM), and hospital admissions, few have studied the effects of short-term exposure to these pollutants. In an effort to uncover the effects of both short- and long-term exposure to PM on hospital admissions, researchers used novel prediction models for exposure to air pollutants and compared to hospital admissions across New England for all residents aged 65 and older.
Regression analyses were compiled for various admission types, including all respiratory, cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke and diabetes. Daily admission counts in each zip code were regressed against short- and long-term PMexposure, temperature, socio-economic data and a spline of time to control for seasonal trends in baseline risk.
Researchers found that for every 10-µg/m3 increase in short-term exposure to particle pollution, hospital admissions increased by 70 percent. Further, for every 10-µg/m3 increase in long-term exposure, hospitalization increased by 4.22 percent. The study also linked particle pollution to reduced lung function, pulmonary inflammation and oxidative stress.
For people living with COPD, reducing exposure to air pollution is an important step in managing the disease. About.com - COPD suggests taking the following steps to limit exposure:
- Pay attention to weather alerts and stay indoors when air quality is poor.
- Use a particle mask to filter the air when time spent outdoors is unavoidable.
- Reduce or eliminate exposure to fireplaces or wood-burning stoves.
- Be proactive in improving your indoor air quality.
- Avoid using gas-powered lawn or gardening equipment.
- Avoid exposure to burning trash, leaves or other matter.
- Plan your day so you take fewer trips in your car.
For the 36 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, the time has come to close the windows and stock up on tissues. That’s right, allergy season is here. However, for those people living with chronic lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and emphysema—especially those who also suffer from seasonal allergies—allergy season can bring a number of serious complications that many others do not experience.
Unfortunately, climate change has made allergy season longer than ever before, while the increase in temperature has also caused pollen-producing plants to grow and prosper at exponential rates. Further, the combination of pollution and pollen in the air that we breathe has caused allergens to invade the body more aggressively than in the past.
However, the good news is that steps can be taken to protect you from trouble-causing allergens.
The first step is to avoid allergens. Before leaving the house, check the forecast for your area’s pollen, mold spore and ozone levels. Sites such as the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology or the public-service organization AirNow are good sources for this information. If the Air Quality Index is above 150 (100 for those who are allergy- or asthma-prone), stay inside as much as possible. Also, be sure to keep the windows closed on these days, to prevent allergens from coming in.
When you’ve been outdoors, it’s a good idea to change clothes as soon as you enter your house. That way, you won’t track pollen and dust throughout your house. Sunglasses can also protect you, as they block your eyelashes and eyelids from attracting pollen.
Further, take an antihistamine at the first sign of a sniffle. Even nonprescription medications can relieve most people’s symptoms. If these over-the-counter medications don’t do the trick, see your doctor for allergy testing. Typically, a skin test can determine what’s causing your allergies so that you can get the best course of treatment. These include prescription antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays. For a permanent solution, allergy shots are also available.
To ensure that breathing complications do not arise as a result of allergy season, talk with your doctor about additional preventative measures that can be taken. You can never be too prepared when it comes to you and your health.
Children exposed to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) have more than double the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) later in life, according to a recent study published in the journal Respirology.
Researchers, led by Ane Johannessen, PhD, of Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway, came to this conclusion after examining data from the Bergen COPD Cohort Study, which was conducted from 2006 to 2009. Their analysis included 433 patients with COPD and 325 without, ages 40 to 79. All patients underwent spirometry and completed questionnaires about respiratory symptoms and risk factors associated with COPD.
Overall, 61% of patients and controls reported being exposed to ETS for at least one year of their childhood. In addition, those patients with COPD had a smoking history of more than 10-pack years.
After thorough analysis, researchers found that women who were exposed to ETS as children were nearly twice as likely to develop COPD later in life compared to those who were not exposed. This relationship did not reach statistical significance among men. However, early-life exposure to tobacco smoke in men was associated with greater odds of developing certain COPD-related symptoms, such as morning cough, cough with phlegm and chronic cough.
Other predictors of COPD among women included occupational dust or gas exposure, family history, and lower educational achievement. Family history was also associated with all respiratory symptoms, while current exposure to tobacco smoke in the home was associated with morning cough, and lower educational achievement was associated with dyspnea.
“Although active smoking is still the most important risk factor for COPD, reduction of childhood ETS exposure could contribute to the prevention of COPD and respiratory symptoms,” wrote the researchers.
For people living with emphysema, chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cold air may worsen symptoms. That is because breathing in cold, dry air causes the airways to narrow, therefore restricting airflow in and out of the lungs and making it more difficult to breath. However, these symptoms can be reduced. According to an online news story from the Mayo Clinic, a number of steps can be taken to reduce the effect of cold air on breathing.
For example, wearing a cold-air face mask when you are outside can protect you from the cold air. Breathing in through your nose instead of your mouth can also help humidify the air before it enters your lungs. Using a humidifier when at home is also a good option. Finally, by using your bronchodilator 30 minutes before going outside you will open constricted airways and prepare your lungs for the cold.
For people living with emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), flu season can be a particularly stressful time. When paired with the flu or a respiratory infection, breathing troubles brought on by these conditions can multiply, and obstructed and inflamed airways can make even the simplest tasks difficult to perform. Airway obstructions also increase the chance of such bacterial infections as pneumonia, because the body is unable to cough up infected mucus.
The good news is that there are several ways to prevent the flu, including staying up to date with the latest flu vaccine. While the best time to get a flu shot is at the beginning of flu season, in October or November, you can get the shot as late as January and still protect yourself from the virus. Encouraging your friends, family and co-workers to get flu shot is also recommended, as it will ensure that you are not surrounded by people who are sick with the flu.
In addition to receiving the flu vaccine, the following tips will reduce your chances of contracting the flu virus:
- Avoid crowds during cold and flu season.
- Wash your hands regularly throughout the day.
- Quit smoking, as it could make you more susceptible to contracting the flu. Studies have shown that more smokers contract the flu than nonsmokers, and when they do they have a more severe infection and a higher risk of dying from the flu.
- Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you for times when a sink isn’t available and disinfectant wipes to clean any surfaces you are about to touch, such as shopping carts or door knobs.
- Take extra care not to touch your mouth, eyes or nose without first washing your hands.
- Ask your doctor about the pneumococcal vaccination, which helps prevent a certain type of pneumonia.
If these prevention methods do not work for you, be sure to contact your doctor with the first signs of flu symptoms. Antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu may decrease the severity of flu symptoms if taken within the first 48 hours.