Taking Your Breath Away

Looking at a Few Common Lung Issues

By David Buice


Breathing is essential to life, and our lungs are part of a very complicated apparatus that expands and contracts nearly 20,000 times daily as our bodies take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Lung disease can result from problems in any part of this vital system—and there are a few problems that afflict tens of millions of Americans every year.


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is an umbrella term for two lung conditions that cause breathlessness, or the inability to exhale normally: emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Smoking is the main cause of emphysema, as cigarette smoke damages the air sacs at the end of the bronchial tubes, causing less oxygen to reach the blood stream. Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.

Chronic bronchitis is a form of COPD characterized by a chronic cough. Sufferers cough up mucus from the lungs, usually in the morning, because mucus glands in the airways increase output, forcing sufferers to cough the extra secretion out. You can also develop acute bronchitis, a short-term infectious problem treatable with antibiotics. 



Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that causes difficulty with breathing due to inflammation of the airways. Symptoms include dry cough, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Allergic reactions, infections, and pollution can all trigger an asthma attack.

Asthma usually starts in childhood and progresses into adulthood, though it’s possible for people in their 60s and above to develop adult onset asthma.

There is no cure, but asthma can be managed and treated, allowing you to live a normal, generally healthy life.


Lung Cancer

This is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the U.S., and it has three classifications; non-small cell, small cell, and mesothelioma. Small cell cancer usually spreads more quickly, and both are usually linked to smoking. Other risk factors include radon exposure, workplace exposure, including asbestos and diesel fumes, secondhand smoke, air pollution, and frequent CT scans of the chest. Mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the chest lining, is most often associated with exposure to asbestos.




Tips For Respiratory Health

As serious as lung disease is, your chances of developing lung problems can be significantly reduced through a few precautionary steps.


Good posture

Hunching over while either sitting or standing pushes the stomach and other organs into the lungs. Make a conscious effort to sit and stand up straight to give your lungs the space they need to fully inflate and deflate.


Greenery in your home

Greenery in your home increases oxygen and improves air quality because of the plants’ abilities to remove certain toxins from the air.



Staying hydrated helps the lungs perform better by thinning the mucus lining in the lungs. Lung infections
can occur when the mucus
is too thick.


Physical activity

Moderate activity promotes lung health. Try to get in 20 minutes of daily exercise that leaves you slightly out
of breath, like brisk walking or cycling.


Fresh fruit and vegetables

Research at Johns Hopkins University and the Imperial College London indicates that a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, especially apples and tomatoes, slows the decline in lung function as we age—for both nonsmokers and former smokers.


Good hygiene

Washing your hands thoroughly, rather than rinsing, helps keep germs, viruses, and bacteria that can hurt your lungs from getting into your body. And be sure to sanitize cell phones and telephone headsets as well.



Get a yearly flu shot and ask your physician if you need a pneumonia shot as well.


No tobacco

Yes, you’ve heard it a million times, but it always bears repeating. Avoiding the use of tobacco products, especially smoking, is the number one way to keep your respiratory system strong and healthy.

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