We rarely think about our lungs, or even our breathing for that matter, until, of course, there’s a problem. That’s why the American Lung Association has set aside October as Healthy Lung Month. The intention is to educate people about the importance of protecting their lungs. Our lungs are complex organs that have many vital physiologic functions. In addition to taking in the air we breathe and infusing oxygen into our blood cells for transport to all of the body’s millions of cells, they also clear harmful carbon dioxide, filter the air we breathe and help regulate body temperature and hydration – all without us having to think about it! That’s asking a lot of our lungs so why not take a moment to learn about some of the ways we can keep them healthy and prevent disease?
1. Prevention of infection. In the era of the current coronavirus pandemic, which causes a form of severe viral pneumonia (lung infection), we have seen an enormous amount of media focus on the lungs. Perhaps not since tuberculosis in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, has so much attention been devoted to helping people keep their lungs free of infection. In addition to viruses, bacteria and fungus can all cause infections in the lungs. Some simple ways we can prevent these illnesses are washing our hands, practicing good hygiene and keeping up to date on vaccines that can prevent or lessen the severity of certain infections that can affect the lungs.
2. Smoking cessation. If you smoke, even if you only smoke occasionally, you run the risk of developing a myriad of potentially serious and even life-threatening lung diseases. Emphysema, asthma, bronchitis and lung cancer are some of the serious conditions caused or exacerbated by smoking. All forms of tobacco use, including cigarettes, cigars and pipes have been associated with significant lung damage and if you’re a smoker, the absolute best thing you can do to help prevent lung damage and disease is quit. Even secondhand tobacco smoke exposure can be harmful and can cause emphysema, trigger asthma attacks and even cause lung cancer, so avoidance of smokey bars or restaurants and keeping your home smoke-free is extremely important.
3. Exercise. We all know that physical activity and consistent vigorous exercise has many health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart attack. But did you know that exercise helps keep your lungs healthy, too? One of the ways exercise benefits your lungs is it makes them more efficient at the many jobs they perform. The same way the exercise conditions your heart and other muscles to perform their roles better, consistent physical activity trains your lungs to breath more efficiently, maximizing the amount of oxygen made available to your blood cells while working less. Exercising aerobically for at least 30 minutes, 3 times per week will help keep your lungs healthy.
4. Environmental pollutants. We should all be aware of potential pollutants and toxins that surround us both in the home and at work. Exposure to lung irritants such as cleaning agent vapors, dust mites, pet dander, lead, formaldehyde and other VOCs (volatile organic compounds) can be extremely harmful. Even very low concentrations can cause serious lung problems over time. Maintaining a clean home and work environment, utilization of an appropriate respirator at work, and reading labels of household chemicals to use them only as intended, are strategies we can do to protect our lungs. Home exposure to radon gas is an important risk to be aware of. Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that forms in the earth beneath our homes and buildings and can seep into and accumulate in our living spaces. Long term exposure to radon gas can cause lung cancer and is in fact, after smoking, its second leading cause.
If you ever experience shortness of breath, chest pains while breathing, cough or sputum (phlegm) production, be sure to see your doctor right away. Keeping the above guidelines in mind, will help ensure that you’re doing all you can to keep your lungs healthy! CritAcuity Medical Group Pulmonary and Sleep Specialists is here to here to help. 1-844-CRITACUITY.