Chronic Airway Obstructive Disease and Stress

Chronic Airway Obstructive Disease is a group of diseases which present with similar clinical manifestations like chronic bronchitis, increased mucus secretion, airway obstruction, chronic rhinitis and destruction of the lung parenchyma. These diseases have various risk factors, some of which are modifiable and others that are not. The two main illnesses in this group are asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Asthma is a disease of inflammation with day-to-day variability in obstruction of the airway. The main risk factor for the development of asthma is 3, 4 Atopy. Other risk factors include family history, viral infections of the respiratory tract, occupational exposures, allergies, obesity, smoking, and air pollution. Asthma is a chronic illness, and the treatment involves managing the symptoms mainly the inflammation that is prevented by using anti-inflammatory drugs (Miraglia et al., 2014). Individuals who have developed the illness are also advised to avoid all the triggers of the disease such as exposure to allergens.

COPD is a progressive disease characterized by limitation of airflow which is not fully reversible. The disease causes airway obstruction which is observed via spirometry, and it is characterized by chronic inflammation and destruction of the lung parenchyma. The disease is strongly associated with smoking, and it has become among the leading causes of death worldwide. Other risk factors include exposure to tobacco smoke, exposure to fumes, age, exposure to fumes from burning fuel and genetics (Byrne et al., 2015). The disease is chronic, and its treatment involves management of the symptoms and treating any bacterial infection that may develop.

The population that is more susceptible to chronic airway obstructive diseases is that with low socio-economic status.  Socio-economic status is a measure of an individual’s resources and prestige within society. It constitutes of criteria such as education, income, the location of residence, housing conditions, occupation and participation in social organizations. Low socioeconomic status is associated with lower quality of life concerning health in people with chronic airway obstructive disease. The reason is that with low socio-economic status, individuals are not able to acquire all the resources required to produce more efficient and maintain health throughout their life (Chandola and Marmot, 2011).

Besides, people with low socioeconomic status are most of the times psychologically stressed since even getting basic needs is a problem. Once an individual is stressed, the immune system mediates an inflammatory response by producing various hormones. This inflammation can become chronic leading to airway obstruction. Psychological stress is also likely to trigger allergic reactions which exacerbate asthma (Kemeny and Schedlowski, 2007). Regarding treatment, individuals with low socioeconomic status are likely to be more susceptible even to the complications of these illnesses since they may not be in a position to acquire the drugs needed to treat the diseases.

The population that is less susceptible to these illnesses are those with serious mental illness. The reason is that their immune system is intact and they are not at risk of inflammatory conditions. They lead a healthy lifestyle with no risk factors for developing chronic obstructive airway diseases as long as they are taking their medications for their mental illness. Besides, the feeding habits of individuals with mental illnesses are, and they are therefore likely to feed on very nutritious foods that boost their immune system. When the immune system is strong, the body is in a position to fight any illness that tries to attack it.

The stress and coping between these two groups may differ since those with a low socio-economic status may significantly be psychologically stressed as compared to those with serious mental illnesses. Those with mental illnesses may also be in a position to cope with stressors better since they are not psychologically disturbed and they do not lack the necessary resources to run their life.




Byrne L. A. et al., (2015). Risk factors for and origins of COPD. Published: May 02, 2015.             DOI:

Chandola, T., & Marmot, M. G. (2011). Socioeconomic status and stress. In R. J. Contrada & A. Baum (Eds.), The handbook of stress science: Biology, psychology, and health (pp. 185– 193)New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Kemeny M. E. & Schedlowski M., (2007). Understanding the interaction between psychosocial   stress and immune-related diseases: a stepwise progression. Brain Behav Immun. 2007         Nov;21(8):1009-18. Epub 2007 Sep 21. DOI:10.1016/j.bbi.2007.07.010

Miraglia M. G., et al., (2014). Risk factors for asthma. Ital J Pediatr. 2014; 40(Suppl 1): A77.       Published online 2014 Aug 11. doi: 10.1186/1824-7288-40-S1-A77