Why first responders need to prepare for, and protect against, COPD

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) isn’t the first health issue that springs to mind, for emergency staff. It’s a disease of the lungs and, unless a person smokes, lung health probably isn’t a concern.

While described as a ‘common lung condition’ that one in seven Australians aged in their 40’s and 50’s have, half of these people don’t know they’re living with COPD.[1] This slow-moving disease causes inflammation and blocks air from the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

The triggers? Cigarette smoke, pollution, toxic chemicals, ash and dust. For the everyday person, avoiding these particles is relatively easy. But, for firefighters, police officers and emergency staff who don’t work in controlled environments, the risk of getting (or triggering) COPD is greater.

Long term exposure to gas, smoke & harmful chemicals

Given the severity of COPD and the increase in first responders suffering from asthma, respiratory protection is important. A study has shown that following preventative measures led to lower instances of COPD and a better quality of life.[2]

While exploring COPD, it’s critical to preface it’s not just a smoker’s disease. Environmental factors and genetics both play a role in the likelihood of getting COPD.

According to the Australia Health Card back in 2016, COPD was the fifth in leading causes of death in Australia.[3] For emergency response staff, going into unknown environments is part of the job.

The issue is, first responders never know exactly what’s going on. From smoke to dust, there’s a long list of what harms the lungs of workers. Whether it’s controlling a crowd in a cloud of second-hand cigarette smoke or running into a burning house, the inhalation dangers can’t be avoided – but, they can be minimised.

Exercise, a healthy diet and awareness of external surroundings

There are home remedies and lifestyle choices that support COPD management. Regular exercise can improve an officer’s overall physical strength and endurance (including respiratory muscles). Finding the right movement is important, so as to not stress the lungs.

Adopting a nutritious diet can also keep the body strong and trim. Reaching a healthy weight can significantly improve breathing, especially during intense situations on-duty.

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Please note: some articles on this website are compiled from material obtained externally. Although we make every effort to ensure information is correct at the time of publication, we accept no responsibility for its accuracy. Health-related articles are intended for general information only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your doctor. The views expressed in articles are not necessarily those of Emergency Services Health.