By Jesse Moor RRT, MBA, Respiratory Therapist
With respiratory season upon us, the time is right to talk about our lungs! In the United States, more than 34 million Americans live with lung disease. When combined with lung cancer and respiratory diseases like influenza and COVID-19, lung disease is the number one cause of death by disease in America. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, asthma affects about 25 million people. We rarely think about our lungs and breathing except when we have trouble doing so, that’s why October has been set aside to raise awareness and educate the public.
While we cannot eliminate all factors that affect our lungs there are many steps, we can take to limit exposure, reduce risk, and keep our lungs healthy.
Avoid smoking and limit exposure to secondhand smoke. Smoking cigarettes and secondhand smoke are the major causes of COPD and lung cancer. Cigarette smoke can narrow the air passages and make breathing more difficult. It also causes chronic inflammation of these same air passages. This long-term exposure to smoke destroys sensitive lung tissue and may trigger changes that grow into cancer. Unfortunately, these changes are very slow and hardly noticeable until the damage is done. Vaping or e-cigarettes and the inhaling of aerosolized nicotine-infused liquid has been shown to worsen asthma symptoms, impair performance in sports and other athletic activities, increase coughing/wheezing, and have behavioral health effects. If you are interested in quitting smoking or just have questions, Wisconsin has the “Tobacco Prevention and Control Program: Help to Quit”. This program offers customized plans and coaching to make quitting possible. For young people, Wisconsin offers “Live Vape Free” for children ages 13-17. This program offers young people one-on-one support from a coach, a personalized road map for the quit journey, plus many more resources and loads of encouragement. The “Live Vape Free” program can be accessed by texting “VAPEFREE” to 873373. You can also reach out to us at Western Wisconsin Health. Ask about our Simple Health program to partner with you in building health habits. We are happy to help.
During the winter months we spend more than 90% of our day indoors. The air quality of these indoor locations play a major role in our lung health. Contaminants such as dust, mites, and animal dander all adversely affect our lungs. Having a regular cleaning routine to include moping, dusting, and vacuuming of carpet will help. Using a damp mop on smooth surfaces can reduce mites, dust, and animal dander. Carpet easily traps dirt and contaminants so frequent vacuuming will decrease this concentration. Many of us forget but regularly change the air filter in your forced air heating system. During the winter months we spend a lot of time indoors and our windows are shut our forced air heating just recirculates the same air. Having a high-quality forced air filter can reduce the particulates and air born viruses.
Regular physical exercise not only makes your muscles stronger, but it also makes your lungs stronger. Exercise also helps control weight, combats health conditions and diseases (such as stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, depression, and anxiety), improves mood, boosts energy, and promotes better sleep. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes per week, of physical activity for healthy adults. 150 minutes may sound like a lot but that’s 30 minutes a day for five days per week. To achieve good health benefits, it is recommended to combine a brisk walk with muscle strengthening activities each week. Brisk walks can be done outside when possible or inside on a treadmill. Muscle strengthening activities include work on all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). It doesn’t take a gym membership to complete these workouts, an exercise ball and a couple of dumbbells are all that is needed. A simple google search for “exercise ball work outs” will give you thousands of workouts that you can perform right in your home.
Routine provider visits play an important role in your lung health as well as for your overall health. Many people only see their provider when there is something wrong. These short issue-based appointments do not allow for the in-depth discussion of preventive health issues. During routine visits with your provider, ask about screening for lung cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Also, take some of this time to discuss yearly vaccines and screening tests that can help detect future illnesses.
If you are more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses, avoid large crowds, wash your hands often, avoid others that are sick, and get vaccinated. Remember, it’s not impolite to ask friends or family to stay away when they are ill. Your health matters.
In summary, the fall and winter months can be beautiful, and a very hectic time so take a few minutes and care for yourself. If you smoke make plans to stop, avoid secondhand smoke, stop vaping, keep a clean environment, exercise regularly and discuss preventable diseases with your provider.
Western Wisconsin Health would like to be your partner in good health. To schedule an appointment with one of our expert primary care providers please call 715-684-1111. Western Wisconsin Health, Building a Healthier Tomorrow, Together.
- American Lung Association
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention
- National Today health-lung-month
- The American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST)
- Mayo Clinic.org/healthy-lifestyle
- US Department of Health and Human Services “https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/physical-activity-guidelines/current-guidelines”