Carbon dioxide, also known as CO2, is a compound of carbon and oxygen that exists as a colorless gas. It is related to the greenhouse effect and in recent years the importance of this gas in lung diseases has been proven.
Thus, this gas is a waste product produced by the body itself during respiration and must be eliminated from the lungs. If this is not the case, it can lead to respiratory failure, decreased lung function, aging of the lungs and an increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
COPD is a chronic condition related to reduced lung function that causes inflammation in the lungs and a narrowing of the airways, resulting in shortness of breath. In fact, according to the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project, COPD is the third leading cause of death worldwide, and this number is expected to increase over the next ten years.
During breathing, oxygen is drawn into the lungs and carbon dioxide is expelled. This movement directs oxygen into the pits of the lungs, which are covered by small blood vessels that allow oxygen to pass from small pits of blood and carbon dioxide to pass from the blood into the lungs. Therefore, a disruption in any part of this process can lead to respiratory failure.
How CO2 affects the lungs
Anna Hansel, Professor Environmental Epidemiology at the Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability at the University of Leicester, UK, notes that «in one of the largest analyses to date, we found that people exposed to higher levels of pollutants had lower lung function equivalent to at least one year of aging.»
«More worryingly,» he adds, «we found that air pollution had much larger effects on people from lower-income households. Air pollution had about twice the impact on lung function decline and the risk of COPD increased by three times compared to higher-income participants who had The same exposure to air pollution,» explains the expert.
«We considered participants’ smoking status and whether their occupation might affect lung health, and we think this disparity might be related to poorer housing conditions or diet, poorer access to medical care, or the long-term effects of poverty affecting lung growth in childhood. But more research is needed to investigate differences in the effects between people from lower- and higher-income households,» he says.
Polluted air harms human health
Professor Tobias Welte of the University of Hannover (Germany) and president of the European Respiratory Society explains that «the findings of this large study reinforce that exposure to polluted air seriously harms human health by reducing life expectancy and making people more likely to develop chronic lung diseases.»
«Access to clean air is a fundamental need and right for all citizens in Europe,» he argues. Governments have a responsibility to protect this right by ensuring that the maximum levels of pollutants set by the World Health Organization are not violated in our cities and towns.
Breathing is the most basic human function required to sustain life, so we must continue to fight for the right to breathe clean air, concludes the researcher.