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Protect Your Lungs, Protect Your Health

Protect Your Lungs, Protect Your Health

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 it enough: 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
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Wet cough with mucus
  • Hoarseness
  • 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.