Healthy Lung Month & Respiratory Therapy
From a health observance prospective, October is often most associated with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But there is another important observance happening in October – Healthy Lung Month. Most of us probably do not pay our lungs much attention unless we experience trouble breathing. The most basic function of our lungs is to provide oxygen to our bodies and remove carbon dioxide. Without these two processes, our bodies and organs would not be able to work.
Problems with your lungs, therefore, affect every part of your body and can have a significant impact on your daily life. Ultimately, respiratory ailments can shorten a person’s lifespan and have a negative effect on their overall quality of life.
More than 35 million Americans live with a chronic lung disease, as reported by the American Lung Association.
Asthma is the most common lung disease. More than 18 million adults and six million children are affected. There is no cure for asthma, but it can be managed. With asthma, your airways are constricted either through a squeezing or swelling.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a serious but common group of lung diseases that includes things diagnoses like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These diseases block airflow in the lungs making it very difficult to breathe.
The most common cause of COPD is smoking, and this can include people who do not smoke themselves but are exposed to second-hand smoke. Air pollution and some chemicals can also cause COPD to develop.
People with COPD are more susceptible to other illnesses that affect breathing and more likely to develop respiratory infections like pneumonia.
Influenza, or the flu is a serious respiratory condition that is easily spread from person to person. As winter weather approaches, flu season comes with it. Elderly people or others with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to “catching” the flu and experiencing the respiratory struggles that come with it. A flu shot is recommended for anyone who is considered high risk (elderly, young or chronically-ill people).
Pneumonia is another frightening diagnosis for anyone, but especially those who are at high risk. Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs caused by bacteria or viruses. If it often a side effect of influenza, but it can manifest without a person also having the flu. While most people can recover in three weeks or so, it can be life-threatening and symptoms should not be ignored.
The good news is that we have a vaccine for pneumococcal pneumonia that is available for people who are high risk. An annual flu shot is also a proactive way to keep this infection at bay.
Lung Cancer will affect one in 16 people in the United States, according to Lungevity. Approximately 156,000 Americans will die from lung cancer this year. The statistics show that both men and women are affected almost equally, and there are no signs that ethnicity plays any role in lung cancer.
Like COPD, smoking is the greatest cause of lung cancer, although many people with this diagnosis were not smokers.
Certainly one way to keep your lungs in tip-top shape is to stop smoking (if you do), never start smoking (if you don’t) and reduce your exposure to tobacco smoke as much as possible.
Air pollution is another culprit in lung disease. The American Lung Association is involved in creating laws that promote clean air and reduce pollution. These steps include reducing carbon emissions from power plants, creating cleaner vehicle standards (and cleaner gasoline) and placing limits on ozone and particle pollution.
You can use filters in your home or place of work to help remove some air pollutants. Wearing a mask if you are outdoors can also go a long way to reduce the toxins you ingest. In some areas of the country that are prone to wildfires, wearing a mask to reduce the smoke inhalation is recommended and quite common.
Exercise is another way to keep your lungs functioning well, especially aerobic physical activity that works your heart and your lungs. Things like running, jumping or brisk walking are a few examples. When you are physically active, your heart and lungs work harder to supply your muscles with the oxygen they demand. This kind of continued exercise strengthens your heart and lungs, just like lifting weights can strengthen muscles.
As your physical fitness improves, your body’s ability to get oxygen into the bloodstream and transport it to the muscles that need it is also improved. Over time, you are less likely to become short of breath during exercise.