Imagine for a moment having trouble breathing or feeling significant pain when you inhale or exhale. Imagine feeling like you cannot get enough oxygen in your body no matter how deeply you inhale. Unfortunately, lung diseases that cause such concerns are much more common than most of us realize. More than 3 million people die each year from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease alone. Additionally, 235 million people suffer from asthma, a common lung disease that is often diagnosed in children. Lung health is essential all year around, but the week of October 21- 27 is dedicated to promoting it and protecting it for Respiratory Care Week.
The week gives us an opportunity to celebrate each breath and to consider making changes to our lifestyles in order to keep lung-related illnesses at bay. Unless we choose to smoke, or if we are exposed to significant pollution, we may not give much thought to our lungs. Interestingly enough, it’s one of the few organs that constantly gives us a reminder of its existence: we breathe to inhale oxygen into our lungs and exhale carbon dioxide every minute of every day. Even so, most of us take our lung health for granted.
So what can you do to care for your lungs and those of loved ones? Let’s look at some common types of lung disease and 5 steps you can take today to better care for your lungs.
Common lung diseases
Some of the most common lung diseases include:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)
COPD is an obstructive inflammation of the bronchial tubes and chronic emphysema. It’s a progressive disease that limits airflow into and out of the lungs due to irritation, thickening and scarring. Additionally, the walls of the air sacs often break down, causing less oxygen to travel in the blood.
Often, COPD is preventable and treatable.
Similar to most cancers, lung cancer is characterized by a malignant tumor multiplying and growing uncontrollably. The two main types of lung cancer are small cell lung cancer, which tends to spread quickly to other parts of the body, and non-small cell lung cancer.
Smoking cigarettes is the #1 cause of lung cancer.
Other lung diseases
Some of these include:
- Pulmonary embolism: a life-threatening blockage (usually a blood clot) that prevents oxygen from reaching the tissues of the lungs.
- Pulmonary hypertension: high blood pressure in the lungs that reduces oxygen flow into the blood
- Sarcoidosis: disease can causes immune system to overreact and can cause lung damage
- Pulmonary fibrosis: scarring of the lungs
- Lymphandioleiomyomatosis (LAM): rare, progressive disease that can affect lung health and breathing ability
- Influenza: serious and easily spread respiratory illness
- Pneumonia: common lung infection caused by a virus, fungi or bacteria.
Tips to protect your lung health
- Don’t smoke
This one may seem obvious. Smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of lung cancer and of COPD. Cigarette smoke can limit the passage of air, making it hard to breathe in the moment, and over time. Even in the short-term, cigarette smoke can cause inflammation and swelling in the lungs.
If you smoke and need help quitting, the American Lung Association can help.
- Avoid pollutants
Keep your distance from pollutants such as second-hand smoke and outdoor pollutants. Don’t allow others to smoke in your home or in your car and move away when people light up at work or in public. Be aware of third-hand smoke, or nicotine residue that adheres to walls, clothing and furniture, as well. If you are feeling ill because of something in the air at home or at work, make sure to consult with a doctor immediately.
If you want talk to your workplace about going smoke-free, click here for support and resources.
- Get regular checkups
During your regular checkup, your doctor could detect early signs of different lung diseases. For the most part, early detection and treatment can significantly shorten the time it takes for you to heal. Talk to your doctor about the flu shot as well.
If you’d like more information about the link between flu shots and lung health, click here.
- Get more exercise
When you exercise, your lungs are getting in more oxygen than usual. Additionally, your lung muscles are working harder. The process of beginning an exercise regimen can help to improve your lung function.
If you’d like more information on the link between exercise and lung health, click here.
- Control your germs
If you are sick, avoid crowds or better yet stay at home. Wash your hands throughout the day with warm water and soap or alcohol-based cleaners. Practice good oral hygiene by brushing at least twice a day and visiting your dentist every 6 months for a checkup.
If you’d like to learn more about encouraging better hygiene in the workplace, click here.
During this year’s Respiratory Care Week, remember that lung health is essential to your overall health and wellbeing. Talk to your loved ones about all of you can take small steps (and maybe a few big ones) to protect your long-term lung health. Thank your healthcare team for working hard to ensure your communities receive the respiratory care we all deserve.
What steps will you take to improve your lung health? Tell us about it in the comments below!
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