From your first breath, healthy lungs are essential for life.
When you breathe in, you take in oxygen that every cell in your body needs to live. Healthy lungs are critical to delivering that oxygen, which is exchanged for carbon dioxide, and then exhaled out. This process enables your body to keep functioning at its best.
However, environmental factors, lifestyle choices and diseases can negatively affect your lungs and your ability to breathe the air you need to live. Taking steps to protect your lungs can help you breathe easier for a lifetime.
Preventing lung problems
There are many steps you can take to keeping your lungs healthy and helping to prevent lung disease such as lung cancer. Follow these tips:
- Avoid exposure to pollutants, including chemicals, secondhand smoke and radon
- Don’t smoke — cigarette smoke has been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer
- Exercise on a regular basis
- Get the flu shot every year
- Protect yourself from respiratory infections and avoid others who are already sick
- See your doctor for regular checkups
Signs that it’s more than a chest cold
It’s not uncommon to experience some chest congestion, especially during cold and flu season. However, when chest congestion does not clear up or becomes worse, it’s time to talk to your doctor.
Some warning signs that your lung problem could be a serious condition include:
- Chest pain
- Chronic cough
- Coughing up blood
- Excess mucus
- Shortness of breath
Diagnosing and Treating Lung Conditions
If your lung condition is more than a common chest cold, your doctor can help diagnose your condition and offer treatment options, or refer you to a specialist for more intensive treatment.
Common lung conditions and their diagnosis and treatment include:
- Asthma - Asthma is typically diagnosed using a spirometry test, which measures how much air you can breathe in and how fast you can blow air out. During this test, your doctor may also measure your lung function by adding cold air to the test or by having you perform some physical activity.
There is no cure for asthma, so treatment is focused on keeping your symptoms under control. Many people with asthma take long-term medicines, such as inhaled corticosteroids, which reduce airway inflammation. You may also need a rescue inhaler, which includes medicine that acts quickly to relax tight muscles around your airways when you have an asthma attack.
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) - COPD makes it hard to breathe and is a disease that gets worse over time. If you have chronic cough or other lung disease symptoms, your doctor will use a lung function test, such as the spirometry test. This helps measures how much air you can breathe in and out, how fast you can breathe air out and how well your lungs are delivering oxygen to your blood. Your doctor may also order a chest X-ray or chest CT exam to look for signs of COPD.
There is no cure for COPD. However, treatment is focused on helping slow down the progression of your disease and helping you to continue living an active life. Your doctor will suggest lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, to help control your symptoms. You may also need medicine such as a bronchodilator, which is a medicine that helps dilate the tiny air sacs in your lungs, and/or an inhaled steroid to reduce airway inflammation.
- Lung Cancer - If you have symptoms that may be signs of lung cancer, your doctor may recommend several tests, including imaging tests, such as an X-ray or CT scan, to look for an abnormal tumor or lesion in your lungs. Your doctor may also order a sputum cytology, in which your sputum is examined under a microscope to look for lung cancer cells. You may also have a biopsy, in which a small sample of your lung tissue is removed and examined for signs of cancer.
The good news is, lung cancer can be cured in many cases. Depending on your specific diagnosis, your lung cancer may be treated with chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or a combination.
Balance, HCR ManorCare's comprehensive health and wellness blog, supplies readers with healthy ideas throughout the year. The blog is designed to serve as a resource, not only for patients, residents and families, but for anyone who strives to live a healthy, "balanced" life. For more information and help making healthy choices, go to balance.hcr-manorcare.com. If you need help making a health care decision, visit our CareFinder and live chat.