Long-term exposure to harsh fumes and caustic chemicals in the workplace can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Characterized by shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and wheezing, having COPD also increases your chance of developing other serious conditions, including lung cancer.

COPD obstructs breathing in two different ways. Chronic bronchitis causes swelling of the bronchial tubes in the lungs and increases mucus production, while emphysema causes the small airways in the lungs (alveoli) to breakdown, which subsequently reduces airflow.

Possible complications of COPD

There is no cure for COPD, but symptoms are often managed with a doctor’s assistance. Medical treatment may also be needed for complications associated with the disease, such as pulmonary hypertension. An increase in pressure in the arteries in your lungs makes it harder for the heart to pump blood through normally, which causes dizziness and pressure in the chest. Damage to lung tissues also increases the risk of developing lung infections. COPD even has an effect on mental health when it limits mobility. Some people develop depressive disorders when they are unable to do certain activities because of their breathing issues.

How it can be prevented

In addition to avoiding smoking, which is another common cause of COPD, workplaces with dangerous fumes must ensure workers remain protected. Along with proper ventilation, workers must also be proved essential protective gear, including masks capable of preventing toxic agents from making their way into your lungs. Workplace supervisors are often responsible for providing protective gear and enforcing its use whenever necessary.

How it can be treated

Once symptoms develop, medications are often used to control them. Inhaled medications known as bronchodilators relax muscles around the lungs, which improves breathing. Inhaled and oral steroids can reduce inflammation in the airways to prevent shortness of breath. In more serious cases, supplemental oxygen may be provided to increase oxygen levels in the blood. Surgical procedures, including lung transplants, can also be used when breathing is severely restricted and other therapies are ineffective.