Earth Day 2019: What is the “State of the Air” Where You Breathe?

Although we may rarely think about the “state of the air” where we live, what we breathe in and out everyday does have a gigantic impact on our long-term health. And as the annual “State of the Air Report” comes out from the American Lung Association, let’s focus on your oxygen for just a few minutes.

Unfortunately, this is when most of us tune out. We say to ourselves, “I don’t smoke so I’ll be fine.” WRONG. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. COPD makes breathing difficult for the 16 million Americans who have this disease. Millions more people suffer from COPD, but have not been diagnosed and are not being treated. Go check your state for deaths from COPD:

There are times when I’m certain those around me hear my severe coughing and think, “Geez, why doesn’t she quit smoking?” I have never smoked cigarettes and yet now, at age 64, COPD dominates my life. And incidentally, 20% of Americans with COPD never smoked. Sometimes when others ask me if I smoked, I am tempted to respond with, “No, but I did breathe…”

I have had reoccurring bouts of bronchitis for decades, don’t know why except that I have lived in some very polluted cities like Seattle, Salt Lake City and Boulder, not to mention Bangkok, Taipei and various places in China. I can no longer tolerate much air pollution at all. I just cough, permanently .

Go check out your county for air pollution levels!

When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters!


COPD – The Silent Epidemic

COPD affects an estimated 30 million Americans, and over half of them have symptoms but do not know it…

So, why am I writing about something so depressing right after Thanksgiving? Because Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) killed over 150,000 Americans last year. It’s the third largest killer in our country after heart disease and cancer. Over 16 million of us have been diagnosed with this irreversible disease with no cure, and another 10-15 million will develop it without knowing it. Early screening can identify COPD before major loss of lung function occurs.

What are the risk factors and common causes of COPD?

Most cases of COPD are caused by inhaling pollutants including smoking (cigarettes, pipes, cigars, etc.), and second-hand smoke. Fumes, chemicals and dust found in many work environments are contributing factors for those who develop COPD.  Genetics can also play a role in the development of COPD—even if you have never smoked or been exposed to strong lung irritants in the workplace. Another major factor is simply the air we breathe.

“It is enough to be grateful for the next breath.” ~ Br. David Steindl-Rast

I learned that I have COPD last winter after noticing how much of a struggle it was to breathe properly at 7,000 feet elevation. I had had no symptoms living at 5,000 feet for decades. I never smoked cigarettes and exercised regularly, but I still had bronchitis many, many times in my life. Cat scans also found nodules in my lungs, which can be a precursor to a lung cancer. The good news? My increased awareness and monitoring of my lung problems.

Go watch this excellent piece that appeared on CBS Sunday Morning this week to learn more about how COPD can be helped in pulmonary rehabilitation centers. Unfortunately, COPD has a big image problem, one that is keeping it from receiving needed government funding for research.

As you might guess, I have learned so much about this common killer, one that will only get more common as air quality declines. The first thing I learned is something that Senior Contributor Ted Koppel’s wife, Grace Anne Dorney Koppel also talks about in the above CBS piece. COPD can be seen as a “it’s your own damn fault” disease.

lung association

So now, when I tell others that I have COPD and they invariably ask me, “Did you smoke?” I respond with, “No, but I did breathe!”

To quote Grace Koppel, “Disease is blame free.”