The average adult takes 15 to 20
breaths per minute. Each breath filters air and transfers oxygen
through the bloodstream to keep organs, joints, muscles and bones
strong. During November, Lung Cancer Awareness Month, we should
take the time think about ways to keep our lungs healthy.
The lungs differ from other organs
in that they are delicate tissues subject to the influence of
environment. While many lung diseases have genetic
components, some of our most common occur from environmental
exposures and lifestyle habits. They include the following
- The damage and destruction of lung tissue from COPD (chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease) limits air flow, making it
progressively more difficult to breath. A diagnosis typically
includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both.
- Bronchitis is an inflammation of the airways characterized by
coughing and chest congestion. The condition is considered chronic
if it lasts for at least three consecutive months per year, for two
- Emphysema is the gradual destruction of lung tissue. The main
symptom is shortness of breath that worsens over time.
- Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of both men and women
in the United States. More people die from lung cancer than any
other type of cancer. It occurs when abnormal cells cluster in a
tumor, destroying the lung tissue around it.
- Pneumonia is a lung infection that usually starts from the
breathing of germs into the lungs. People who smoke, abuse alcohol,
are malnourished, have other chronic lung conditions or other
chronic illnesses, have an increased risk of pneumonia.
- Asthma is characterized by inflamed airways that make them
susceptible to environmental triggers - such as weather, dust and
smoke - that further swell the airways and make breathing even more
difficult. It tends to run in families, but environmental factors
also play a role.
- Pulmonary fibrosis scars thicken lung tissue, making it more
difficult to breathe. The damage can occur from exposure to toxins
and pollutants, such as asbestos fibers and silica dust in certain
occupations such as mining.
The American Lung Association
recommends several precautions to protect the lungs and minimize
the risk of these diseases. Among them are the following.
- Don't smoke. Cigarette smoking is directly responsible for 90
percent of lung cancer deaths and 80 to 90 percent of COPD cases.
Smoking affects nearly every organ in the body, but is especially
damaging to the lungs. No matter how long you have been smoking, it
is never too late to stop. Human lung tissue begins to heal once
smoking has ceased.
- Avoid exposure to pollutants. Secondhand smoke, outdoor air
pollution and chemicals in the workplace can all cause or worsen
lung disease. The American Lung Association recommends maintaining
a smoke-free home and car, testing your home for radon gas, and
avoiding outdoor exercise on bad air days.
- Prevent infection. Diseases such as chronic bronchitis and
pneumonia can be prevented by frequently washing your hands,
receiving an annual flu shot and avoiding crowds during flu and
cold seasons. People who already have lung disease should seek
medical attention as soon as possible if they suspect a lung
Many treatments can ease symptoms
and slow progress, but lung disease is not curable. The best
defense is the practice of good lung health.
By: Dr. Bradley R. Harrold, MD,
a pulmonologist with OhioHealth Pulmonary Physicians
and a member of the OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital medical