Respiratory Diseases

Respiratory diseases, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, pneumoconiosis (sometimes called black lung), and many more, affect millions of people in the United States each year. More than 25 million (1 in 13) Americans have asthma. The death rate for COPD has doubled since 1969, even as the death rates for other chronic conditions have declined.

People belonging to Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native communities are disproportionately affected by asthma despite recent advances in US health policy and research. Children and older adults are particularly at risk of adverse effects caused by respiratory disease, including hospitalization and death. Populations with certain environmental exposures, like people who smoke or work in the mining industry, also face higher risk.

Respiratory diseases of all kinds are exacerbated by poor air quality. Many air pollutants, including particulate matter and ground-level ozone, can cause the appearance or worsening of respiratory illness. Those exposed to higher concentrations of air pollutants, including people living in urban areas, low-income communities, and communities of color, face higher risk for the development or worsening of respiratory diseases.

One method of reducing the burden of respiratory disease is to improve air quality and reduce air pollution. At scale, changes can be made to industrial, agricultural, and transportation systems to reduce air pollution levels. At the local level, more focused approaches, like the creation of smoke- and exhaust-free areas, or could help reduce harmful exposures that could result in respiratory illness.

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Accessibility and Disability Equity Library
Published on 09/01/2022

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