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|How to Protect Your Lung||Your Health is our Priority|
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If you take good care of your lungs, they can last a lifetime. “The lungs are very
durable if they’re not attacked from the outside,” says Norman H. Edelman, MD, chief
medical officer of the American Lung Association (ALA). With a few exceptions, your
lungs don’t get into trouble unless you get them into trouble, he says.
However, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth-leading cause
of death in the U.S. after heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Here are 12 things you
can do to keep your lungs healthy as you age.
Smoking is, hands down, the worst thing you can do to your lungs on a regular basis.
There’s no safe threshold when it comes to smoking, Dr. Edelman says; the more you
smoke, the greater your risk of lung cancer and COPD, which includes emphysema
and chronic bronchitis. Secondhand smoke is harmful, too, and there’s mounting
evidence that even thirdhand smoke—or just being in an environment where people
have smoked—is dangerous.
It’s not enough to skip only cigarettes. Pipes, cigars, or marijuana can harm lungs too
2.Fight for clean air
While U.S. air is cleaner than in the past, more than 154 million Americans still live in
areas where air pollution is a threat to health, according to the ALA’s annual State of
the Air report.
"Air pollution can not only make diseases like COPD and asthma worse, [but] it can
also kill people," Dr. Edelman says. You can make a difference by supporting clean air
laws and opposing efforts to cut regulation.
On the individual level, cut your electricity use, drive less, and avoid burning wood or
Exercise in itself won’t make your lungs stronger, Dr. Edelman says, but it will help
you get more out of them.
The better your cardiorespiratory fitness, the easier it is for your lungs to keep your
heart and muscles supplied with oxygen. Regular exercise is particularly important if
you have chronic lung disease; your lungs need all the help they can get.
If cold air triggers your asthma symptoms, use a scarf or face mask to warm the air
before it hits your lungs.
4.Beware of outdoor air pollution
In some areas, especially in the summer, ozone and other pollutants can make
working out or even spending time outdoors an unhealthy proposition.
People with a lung disease are particularly sensitive to air pollution. The U.S.
government’s AIRNow web site, provides up-to-date information on air quality, as
well as an explanation of Air Quality Index (AQI) numbers.
5.Improve indoor air
Air pollution isn’t just an outdoor problem. There are a number of indoor sources,
including fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, mold, pet dander, construction
materials, and even air fresheners and some candles.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends a three-pronged approach:
Eliminate sources, improve ventilation, and use air cleaners.
Air cleaners remove particulate matter, but won’t impact gases.
There is evidence that antioxidant-rich foods are good for your lungs. (Research
suggests it has to be food, not supplements.)
A 2010 study found that people who consumed the most cruciferous vegetables
(broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, kale, and more) had almost half the risk of
lung cancer compared to those who consumed the least.
"All those nice, leafy green vegetables that have lots of antioxidants do seem to
have a protective effect," says Dr. Edelman.
7.Protect yourself on the job
Many jobs can put your lungs at risk, from construction work to styling hair. (Here are
some of the worst jobs for your lungs.)
In fact, occupational asthma accounts for approximately 15% of cases, says Dr.
Edelman. Potential culprits include dust; particles; diacetyl, a chemical that adds a
buttery flavor to food; paint fumes; and diesel exhaust, among others. If your
employer provides protective equipment, wear it. If not, Dr. Edelman says, contact
your union representative, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or any
state or local agency with the same function as OSHA.
8.Don’t skimp on shots
Respiratory infections can be particularly devastating if you have COPD or other lung
problems. Get the flu shot in time for flu season, and if you’re 65 or older, get the
pneumococcal vaccine too.
Also, take steps to avoid infection: Wash your hands frequently, avoid crowds during
peak flu season, get plenty of rest, eat well, and keep your stress levels under
9.Stick to safe products
Many at-home activities—cleaning, hobbies, home improvement—can expose your
lungs to harmful particles or gases.
Protect yourself by choosing safer products, working in a well-ventilated area, and
using a dust mask. (The ALA offers tips for working with fiberglass.)
Avoid oil-based paints, which release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and choose
water-based paint instead. Cleaning products can contain harmful chemicals too, like
VOCs, ammonia, and bleach; read labels before you buy.
10.Check for radon
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium
in the ground. It typically leaks into a house through cracks in the foundation and
walls. Radon is the main cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, and the second-leading
cause of the disease after smoking.
Get your home tested; if radon levels are between 2 and 4 pCi/L, consider radon
reduction. There are no known safe levels of radon, so the lower, the better.
11.Know the warning signs
If you have a cough for more than a month, or if you have a hard time breathing with
little or no physical exertion, you should see a doctor, according to the ALA.
Wheezing, coughing up blood, or coughing up phlegm for more than a month are also
problematic, and if you have chest pain lasting a month or longer, get it checked out,
particularly if breathing in or coughing makes it worse.
12.Control your condition
If you’ve got asthma or COPD, do your best to keep it under control.
Preventive medications, such as inhaled corticosteroids, can cut your risk of asthma
attacks, and rescue medications, such as albuterol inhalers, can stop symptoms like
coughing or wheezing. Other medications can control COPD.
Know your triggers, and avoid them, if possible. Also do your best to stave off
respiratory infections, which can exacerbate both conditions.