COPD and Indoor Air Pollution – A vicious circle?

The relation between indoor air pollution and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death worldwide, yet most people have never heard of it. COPD causes inflammation in the lungs, irreversibly damaging lung-tissue and narrowing the airways. The disease accounted for 2.93 million deaths in 2016 alone [1].

Some of the main signs of COPD include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, swelling in ankles, feet or legs and lack of energy [2], all of which may make patients discouraged to move and through this are unable to leave their home as much as a regular person would.

COPD is a confirmed public health crisis in Europe and affects one in ten adults over 45[3]. The two main causes of the disease are thought to be tobacco and air pollution. Despite having such a large impact on human lives, there is very little information on COPD and therefore it continues to influence patients, their families and healthcare systems.

In 2014, the European Union adopted the Clean Air Package with norms to regulate the pollutants emitted by industrial activities, the level of traffic and emissions and the dangerous chemicals which come from agriculture. Although all important contributors to air pollution and COPD, these are not the only things polluting the air we breathe.

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is a major contributing factor to our health and wellbeing, yet very little attention is being paid towards it. The air inside can be up to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air [4] and more than 900 chemicals, particles and biological materials have been detected in indoor air [5]. Indoor air pollution is caused by poor indoor equipment such as ventilation and heating as well as poor building materials such as paints, carpets and surface and finishing materials. Furthermore, the occupant’s behaviour can influence the IAQ through cleaning products, cooking or smoking indoors.

Indoor air pollution can both cause and trigger symptoms of COPD. Most people know that breathing polluted air while outside is harmful, especially if you are living with a lung condition such as asthma or COPD [6]. The symptoms of COPD may cause patients to stay at home more than the average person, and without any knowledge about IAQ, they could unknowingly be exposing themselves to an environment that will make their disease and symptoms even worse.

The EFA is approaching the EU institutions to include IAQ in policies that have a threshold in the issue such as the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), which did not even mention the links and benefits of energy consumption reduction and health.

BEAMA and the My Health My Home campaign are also working on policy change within the UK through the APPG for Healthy Homes and Buildings and will be publishing a white paper on the importance of IAQ in relation to health.

Read more about our work in parliament here.
Read Health Europa’s article on COPD here.


[1] GBD 2016 Mortality Collaborators. (2016). Global, regional, and national age-sex specific mortality for 264 causes of death, 1980–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet. 390 (10100), P1151-1210.

[2] Mayo Clinic. (2018). COPD. Available:

[3] Isabel Proaño Gómez. (2018). Cross-cutting solutions for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Available:

[4] United States Environmental Protection Agency. Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality. Available:

[5] Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks SCHER. (2007). Opinion on risk assessment on indoor air quality. European Commission. 

[6] British Lung Foundation. (2018). About indoor air pollution. Available:

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