Breathe Clean Air Air and Breathing

Lung Diseases

Air Quality

Some Topics

 

YINYANG

Airborne Diseases

Airborne microbes, allergens and chemicals cause respiratory disease - inflammation in the nose, throat, sinuses, upper airway and the lung. Many infections are acquired by inhalation of pathogens that may remain in the respiratory system but also invade the rest of the body through lymphatic and blood circulations.

Upper airway inflammation is often expressed congestion, coughs and sore throats. Air pollution, both indoor and outdoor, plays a significant role in the exacerbation of airway disease in asthmatics and may contribute to the overall increase in asthma morbidity. Hospitalization for asthma has increased by 50% over the past 20 years, and deaths from asthma in the United States have increased to more than 5,000 per year. It is suggested that mortality is particularly high in lower socioeconomic groups who are exposed to higher levels of air pollution and have poorer access to early and effective medical care.

Ozone is an atmospheric pollutant that enhances the effect of inhaled allergens in asthmatics, suggesting that pollutants influence lung function by increasing airway inflammation. Over 50% of the United States population lives in areas which exceed air quality standards for ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and particulates (as monitored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - EPA).

Spring or summer wheezing attacks of pollen sensitive patients is a form of allergic asthma, usually obvious to patients and allergists alike. Indoor allergens often play a role in maintaining year-round airway disease and may present as rhinitis, sinusitis, asthma and/or bronchitis.

Every human alive on planet earth suffers from recurrent Upper Respiratory Tract Infection. Over 80 % of these infections are caused by viruses, which run their course regardless of what medications are offered. The prescription of antibiotics to treat cold symptoms is one of the more futile actions of MDs, responding to patient demand. The common cold is the most prevalent form of viral infection caused by viruses such as rhino and corona viruses. More virulent virus such as influenza and adenoviruses can begin with cold symptoms and progress to involve the lung in patterns of inflammation that may involve bronchi (bronchitis), bronchioles (bronchiolitis) or alveoli (alveolitis, a.k.a. pneumonia).  Chronic inflammation is always an immune mediated process. The key questions are what antigens initiate the inflammation? Chronic inflammation leads to scarring and obstructive lung disease. Pulmonary fibrosis is a result of long term inflammation in the lung. Diseases such a sarcoidosis involve immune-mediated pulmonary fibrosis.

The ubiquitous presence of fungi in both indoor and outdoor environments is a potential health threat that is poorly understood and almost ignored in medicine. Molds reproduce by releasing spores into the air. Mold spores are usually more abundant than plant pollens. Molds grow mycelia, branching thread-like structures that infiltrate materials. Spore bearing structures, conidiophores, grow from mycelia.

Aerosols

Suspended particles in the air create aerosols that are important to the behavior of whole atmosphere and play a role in determining human disease. Natural sources of atmospheric particles are volcanoes, dust storms, spontaneous forest fires, tornadoes and hurricanes. Clouds are a product of aerosols that seed the formation of water droplets. Human air pollution now dominates aerosol production over cities with negative health effects. Thick aerosols are obvious as haze and contain a complex system of particles with adherent toxic gases such as sulphur dioxide. NASA’s earth observatory information states:

Aerosol particles may be solid or liquid; they range in size from 0.01 microns to several tens of microns. For example, cigarette smoke particles are in the middle of this size range and typical cloud drops are 10 or more microns in diameter. The majority of aerosols form a thin haze in the lower atmosphere (troposphere), where they are washed out of the air by rain within about a week. Aerosols are also found in a part of the atmosphere just above the troposphere (stratosphere). A severe volcanic eruption, such as Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, can put large amounts of aerosol into the stratosphere that remain there for many months, producing beautiful sunsets around the globe, and causing summer temperatures to be cooler than normal. Mount Pinatubo injected about 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, cooling average global temperatures over the following year by about half a degree.”

Aerosol particles from factories and power plants increase the number of droplets in clouds that reflect more sunlight, retain water and do not produce rain. Man made aerosols change local weather systems. The effect of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide is warming the planet. The effect of aerosols is cooling the planet. The net effect of air pollution depends on the ratio of warming gases to cooling particles.

Over land up to a quarter of the total airborne particulates are pollens, fungal spores, bacteria, viruses, plant and animal matter. Air inside buildings contains local aerosols that are sometimes more concentrated and more toxic than outdoor air. The term dust refers to the larger particles in the aerosol that settle on walls and furniture.

A smoker in the living room of a house produces a toxic aerosol that permeates the rest of the house. Smoke particles settle on walls and every object in a room so that a smoker leaves a trail of contamination that non-smokers smell as soon as they enter the room.

Indoor air contains a living aerosol of microorganisms that infect or trigger allergic reactions. Spores of bacteria and fungi are microscopic and may persist for months or years. You can see the indoor aerosol under the right lighting conditions, such a sunlight streaming through a window. The abundance of microorganisms, even in a very clean house, surprises most people who have tests done to assess air quality.


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