Cedric J. Rutland is a pulmonary critical care doctor, the owner of West Coast Lung, and the national volunteer medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association. On April 19, 2023, the State of the Air report was released by the ALA detailing the impact of high pollution levels on the population.
Rutland explained how this may affect those with lung conditions.
What is the most important takeaway from the State of the Air report?
I think the most important thing, the State of the Air report that was written by the American Lung Association creates awareness, right? It creates awareness of harmful environments. When you’re looking at your environment, and where you live, understanding the pollution that surrounds you, allows you to understand why you may feel so bad, why you may be coughing, and why you may be struggling to breathe. It also gives you pause and warnings, that there are individuals that are at risk of developing severe diseases, secondary to the presence of harmful products in the air. Such as individuals with lung disease, individuals with cardiovascular disease, and individuals who are obese, and really what it’s saying is that air pollution is here. This is what’s going on, this is what’s causing your symptoms, and that awareness allows individuals to seek care and to understand what’s going on in their body a little bit better.
When it comes to those with lung conditions, how can pollution impact their health?
If you look at individuals that have asthma, a common lung condition that we’ve all heard of, asthma is an autoimmune inflammation of the pipes that carries air to the balloon. Your lung is essentially a bunch of pipes leading to a bunch of balloons stacked on top of one another. When these pipes have inflammation, it causes you to wheeze, cough, and be short of breath. If you have asthma and you already have chronic inflammatory cells in those pipes, what you’re going to discover is if the air is heavily polluted, you’re going to breathe in all these products, which are going to worsen that inflammation. You may have worsening symptoms, you may have more wheezing, you may have more mucus production, and you may have more coughing. It exacerbates your chronic lung condition, which is what leads to significantly more airway inflammation, more symptoms, and perhaps a presentation to the hospital.
What does this State of the Air report mean to you personally?
I mean, personally, when I think about that, my clinic is just south of Long Beach, California. Long Beach, California, is one of the most heavily polluted areas in the state of California, because of all the industrial plants that are in that area. As a result of that pollution, you get a lot of children that end up having asthma in that area. In fact, I’m interviewing 10 of these children tomorrow. But I think what it allows me to do is educate these kids on what asthma is and what chronic airway inflammation is so that they fully understand how it’s impacting their health, their sports, and what they’re doing. That way they can at least seek appropriate therapy.