How can you protect yourself from respiratory infections before they become
serious? Especially as we continue to face the
COVID-19 pandemic and enter the winter cold and flu season, it’s important to do everything
you can to keep your lungs healthy. With healthy lungs, you reduce your
risk of having severe complications from respiratory illnesses, including
the common cold.
While your body has a natural defense system to keep dirt and germs at
bay, there are several ways to help protect your lungs:
Ditch the cigarettes. Smoking is a major cause of
lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It can also make it
more difficult to breathe, cause chronic inflammation of the lungs, and
destroy lung tissue. If you’re a smoker, it’s never too late
to quit. Need help? Check out our
Smoking Cessation program.
Minimize exposure to indoor pollution. Indoor pollutants like secondhand smoke, household chemicals, and radon
can all cause and worsen lung disease. Make your car and home smoke-free,
test your home for
radon, and talk to your doctor if you’re worried that something in your
home, school, or work is making you sick.
Minimize exposure to outdoor pollution. The outdoor
air quality can vary day by day, but sometimes it can be unhealthy to breathe. Climate
change and natural disasters like wildfires can significantly affect air
quality. Poor air quality is most common during the warmer months when
there is more sunlight, and also during rush hour in cities.
Get moving. No matter your age or ability,
exercise is a great way to keep your lungs healthy. Aim for at least a 30-minute
workout most days of the week.
Get regular check-ups. Even when you feel fine, it’s important to get regular
wellness check-ups. These appointments are an opportunity to catch lung disease early, which
may not exhibit noticeable symptoms until it’s serious.
Additionally, one of the essential aspects of having healthy lungs is to
prevent yourself from getting an infection that leads to respiratory illness.
Here are several ways you can protect yourself:
Get vaccinated. Make sure you get your flu shot every fall. Also, talk to your doctor
to find out if you should receive the pneumonia vaccine.
Wash your hands frequently. You’ve heard it plenty during COVID-19, but we can’t stress
keep your hands clean. A good rule of thumb is to wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
If you don’t have access to a sink, hand sanitizer with at least
60% alcohol is the next best option.
Practice social distancing. It’s wise to avoid crowds during normal cold and flu season, but
with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s essential to stay at least 6 feet
away from people not from your household.
Practice good oral hygiene. Taking good care of your mouth can protect you from germs that lead to
infections. Brush your teeth at least twice a day, don’t forget
to floss, and see your dentist at least twice a year.
Types of Respiratory Illnesses
Respiratory illnesses can range from a mild case of the common cold that
lasts about a week, to severe, chronic conditions like cystic fibrosis
that are life-threatening.
The common cold can be caused by many different types of viruses—most commonly,
the rhinovirus. This condition is usually harmless, and symptoms typically
resolve within two weeks without a doctor’s care. However, those
with underlying respiratory conditions may develop a severe illness like
bronchitis or pneumonia.
Pneumonia, an infectious lung condition caused by bacteria or viruses, involves
inflammation of the lung’s air sacs. When these air sacs become
inflamed and infected, they fill with fluid, making breathing more difficult
and reducing the flow of oxygen throughout the body. Those with COPD have
a higher risk of developing pneumonia. Cases can range from mild to life-threatening.
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the airways that carry air to your lungs, called
the bronchial tubes. The condition can be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis
is usually caused by a viral respiratory infection and resolves by itself,
while chronic bronchitis is long-term.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, makes the airways and air sacs less elastic, inflames airway
walls, and clogs lungs with mucus. COPD encompasses emphysema, where the
lung’s air sacs are damaged, and chronic bronchitis, which involves
inflammation of air sacs and excess mucus in the lungs. Those with COPD
and other disabling lung conditions can benefit from our
Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program.
Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome is an extremely rare condition that occurs if strep bacteria is released
into multiple organs. The lungs can be affected. Symptoms include a sudden
fever, vomiting, and muscle aches. If you have any strep throat symptoms—which
include a sore throat, inflamed lymph nodes, and swollen tonsils—it’s
important to see your doctor for treatment.
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition that causes mucus in the organs, including the
lungs, to become thick and sticky. Those with this condition can experience
severe complications including infections, inflammation, and respiratory failure.
Symptoms of Respiratory Illness
If you have any of the following symptoms, make an appointment with your
doctor to discuss your lung health.
- Persistent cough
- Tightness in your chest
- Wet cough with mucus
- Shortness of breath with activity
Your lung health is vital to your overall well-being. If you think you
have a respiratory condition, don’t delay treatment.
Schedule an appointment with your doctor today to get care.