Published on October 16, 2020

Happy, Healthy Lungs

older couple laughing

With the respiratory infection COVID-19 at the forefront of every news line over the past several months, and October being national Healthy Lung Month, it’s a great time to reflect on and learn about one of our most precious organs: the lungs.

When our lungs have been impacted by a respiratory illness, be it COVID-19 or other conditions, breathing may become a challenge; this can dramatically impair one’s quality of life. While we might not think about breathing day to day, as it comes easily and without effort for many of us, our lungs are constantly working hard to enrich blood with oxygen to be delivered to every cell in your body. There is a lot we can do, day in and day out, to ensure that process happens effectively. Simply put, we can take important steps to keep our lungs healthy and happy.

Hygiene and Immunizations

If you’ve ever had a case of pneumonia or bronchitis, you know how quickly things can take a turn for the worse. While respiratory infections are an unfortunately unavoidable fact of life, you can take steps to reduce your risk. This includes:

  • Washing your hands with soap and water. Germs (mostly viruses but also bacteria) are spread from person to person when we touch a contaminated object - be it raw meat, a door handle touched by someone carrying a germ, a gas pump, computer, phone, etc. – and then touch our eyes, nose, or mouth. There is clear evidence that washing your hands vigorously, and paying attention to the backs, sides, nailbeds and nails, for 20 seconds, can prevent disease transmission. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, good hand hygiene can significantly decrease transmission of typical respiratory pathogens.
  • One of the truest notions in medicine is that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Vaccines can’t prevent every type of respiratory infection, but they can definitely decrease your chance of getting some of the more severe diseases, namely influenza (from the flu virus), or pneumococcal pneumonia (from the particularly common but dangerous bacteria S. pneumoniae). Your primary care provider can tell you whether you are due for the pneumonia shot, and everybody needs a flu shot yearly.

Minimize Exposure to Air Pollution

Pollutants are always in the air we breathe. We often think of smog, car exhaust and smoke as air pollutants, but our lungs also put up with a host of other particles, chemicals and even bacteria that occur naturally in the environment. When our lungs work well, they can handle the constant exposure to one pollutant or another. When they are sick, our lungs’ defenses don’t work as well. While total avoidance of all pollutants is impossible, it’s a good idea to try to limit your exposure to preventable pollutants. We can do this by taking note of poor air quality days (fortunately not a huge part of life in Southern New England) and avoiding going outside when the weather is particularly hot and humid. Likewise, on days when the New England weather is brutally cold, some of us benefit from wearing a scarf or face covering to warm the air we breathe slightly. When we exercise, it’s best to avoid areas with high concentrations of car exhaust, construction site dust, and the like. Working with dusts or chemicals can also be an exposure risk; masks are helpful to filter out particulate matter that we might otherwise inhale deep into the lungs.

Take Steps to Quit Smoking, and Talk to Your Doctor About Screening for Lung Cancer

There is no doubt that quitting smoking is one of the hardest things that many people experience. That said, IT IS DOABLE! We know that tobacco smoke contains a slew of toxins that cause an array of lung diseases, as well as cancer. Smoking also increases the risk of problems outside of the lungs - in the heart, blood vessels, brain, and other vital organs. Cutting down and quitting is possible with a good plan, a helpful healthcare provider, and determination. Second hand smoke, and even third hand smoke (inhaling the smoke particles that have settled onto our clothes, furniture, hair, etc.) also cause lung problems. For smokers in the 55-80 year age range who have smoked at least 1 pack per day for 30 years (or ½ pack for 60 years), talk to your doctor about lung cancer screening, which can reduce the risk of death from lung cancer.

Mask Up - Protect Your Lungs During the Pandemic

Masks have become the newest accessory to our wardrobe, and for good reason. It’s now the norm to wear a mask to work, school, and out to run errands, and for the foreseeable future this will remain the case. Wearing a cloth face mask properly (over your mouth and nose) significantly reduces the risk of spreading COVID-19 as well as other respiratory illnesses such as the flu. With as much as 40% of COVID-19 cases being asymptomatic, wearing a mask is the best way to show that you support the health and well-being of your community. If you need some tips on how to get your children to comply with wearing a mask, here are some great tips.

Don’t Forget About Exercise and Weight Loss

All of us, whether we have lung healthy or sick lungs, need exercise. Even walking for a few minutes per day can be a great benefit to those who are stuck in a sedentary lifestyle. Pulmonary Rehabilitation, a wonderful program we have right here at Sturdy Memorial Hospital, is a proven tool to get folks with lung and/or heart problems moving around more and feeling better. Maintaining a healthy weight is also great for overall lung health.

If you are affected by a serious lung problem, have difficulty breathing, need help managing your asthma or figuring out a chronic cough, you may be referred to a pulmonologist like myself. Together, we’ll discuss your symptoms and history and work as a team to diagnose and manage your condition. Our goal is to get your lungs working as well as possible to ensure the best possible quality of life.

The providers at Pulmonary Associates of Attleboro are accepting new patients. Please call 508-222-2549 to schedule an appointment.