April 10 (UPI) -- For years, more people have been developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease around the world, and the number of nonsmokers with the condition has risen sharply, a new study says.
About 46 percent of nonsmokers with COPD in a study were exposed to biomass gas in the environment, according to research that will be presented this week at CHEST Congress 2019. Another 26 percent had exposure to other toxic gases.
"Exposure to industrial smoke, environmental pollution and household smoke are major contributors for COPD in nonsmokers," said Sameer Arbat, a researcher from India and study lead author, in a news release.
Burning biomass like wood, agricultural crops, waste materials, animal manure and human sewage are burned can release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In rural areas, people often burn biomass for cooking and other chores.
Roughly, 61 percent of people in the study live in rural areas. The study suggests that many of these people may have been more susceptible to biomass and toxic gases due to their environments.
COPD is a lung disease that harms a person's ability to breathe and opens them up to other serious illnesses.
For women, COPD has been linked to obesity. In fact, one study reported that non-smoking women with body mass index of 40 or more had a 13 percent higher risk of developing COPD than women in a healthy weight range.
The World Health Organization reported more than 250 million cases of COPD around the globe.
The overwhelming number of COPD deaths, more than 90 percent, happen in low or middle-income countries around the world.
"There is a need to study this subset of nonsmokers having COPD further to determine the true cause of this increase," Arbat said.