Hotter Weather May Fuel Spike in COPD Flare-Ups

By Megan Brooks

September 08, 2021

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The climate crisis may lead to worsening of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the third leading cause of death worldwide.

An analysis of data from current and former smokers with COPD in the United States found an increase in COPD exacerbations roughly two days after an increase in ambient temperatures.

Dr. Supaksh Gupta, a pulmonary and critical-care fellow at the University of Washington, in Seattle, reported the findings at the virtual European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress.

"With increasing temperatures worldwide attributable to the ongoing climate crisis, the risk of increased morbidity is not distributed equally amongst all individuals," Dr. Gupta told Reuters Health by email.

"Based on our research, individuals with COPD may represent one such subset of individuals at increased harm due to ongoing environmental changes," he added.

The observations are based on 1,177 current and former smokers (mean age, 64 years) with COPD enrolled in the SubPopulations and InteRmediate Outcome Measures in COPD Study (SPIROMICS) between 2010 and 2015. All of them had at least one COPD exacerbation since joining the study.

The researchers assessed the risk of COPD flareups based on local, ambient temperatures recorded on the day of the exacerbation and in the preceding week.

After accounting for relative humidity, which has been implicated in risk of COPD exacerbation, each one-degree-Celsius increase in ambient temperature correlated with a 2% increase in the likelihood of COPD exacerbation over the next two days (P=0.002).

"Further research is warranted in this area to better characterize that risk, and also to evaluate for potential protective factors, in order to optimize the care of our patients with COPD both right now and for the future," Dr. Gupta told Reuters Health.

He noted that the current study was not designed to evaluate the impact wildfires might have on individuals with COPD. However, "existing research suggests that there may be an association with exposure to wildfire smoke and increased respiratory morbidity and mortality in individuals with COPD."

"This is an area of research that I find particularly interesting and hope to pursue further in the future," Dr. Gupta said.

In a conference statement, Dr. Zorana J. Andersen of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, chair of the ERS Environment and Health Committee, said, "The climate emergency is proving to have far-reaching effects in areas of everyday life where it might not necessarily be expected to have an impact. This study offers a fascinating insight into the way it could be affecting the lives of people living with COPD and is yet more proof of the urgent need to tackle climate change and the world's rising temperatures."

SOURCE: ERS International Congress, presented September 3, 2021.