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How Workplaces Can Contribute to COPD Risk


SPONSORED CONTENT -- (StatePoint) Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is a long-term lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. Impacting 11.7 million people in the United States, many people think of it only as a disease that impacts people who smoke and use tobacco products, but long-term exposure to dust, chemicals, fumes and vapors from the workplace are also risk factors.

In fact, work-related exposures account for 10-20% of either respiratory symptoms or lung function impairment consistent with COPD.

To help people understand the many facets of COPD risk, the American Lung Association is launching a campaign to raise awareness of occupational COPD. As part of the campaign, they are sharing patient insights, along with information to help people identify workplace risk factors and signs of disease progression.

Knowing the Risk Factors

Mary Cohen, who lives with COPD, started having symptoms when working at a nail and hair salon.

“I did not realize that working in a hair and nail salon doing nails would put me at risk for lung disease, COPD,” says Cohen.

The leading industries and job types that increase risk for COPD include agriculture, mining and manufacturing, however many types of workplaces, from construction to welding, can potentially expose workers to harmful irritants that can contribute to developing COPD. Workplace exposures include:

• Secondhand smoke

• Mineral dusts like silica, coal and asbestos

• Organic dusts like cotton, wood and grains

• Metal or welding fumes like cadmium

• Diesel or exhaust fumes

• Asphalt, tar fumes, or vapor in roads or roofing

• Smoke from fires

Recognizing the Signs

While there is no cure for COPD, it is often preventable and once diagnosed, can be managed and treated. That’s why recognizing the symptoms as early as possible is so important. These symptoms include shortness of breath, a cough that may bring up sputum (mucus or phlegm), wheezing, tiredness or fatigue, or repeated lung infections like bronchitis or pneumonia. Perhaps a person notices they are taking the elevator instead of the stairs because of shortness of breath, or that they develop a lingering cough every time they sweep sawdust. Unfortunately, people often attribute these changes to their health to aging or because they have gained weight or are out of shape.

If a person has been exposed to risk factors for occupational COPD or has symptoms, the American Lung Association recommends that they speak to their healthcare provider. Learn more at

The workplace is where people spend hours of their day and years of their life. Learning more about how to protect the lungs at work is critical.



Photo Credit: (c) KatarzynaBialasiewicz / iStock via Getty Images Plus

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