Amid a deadly pandemic that attacks the respiratory system, now is the time to assess the health of your lungs and strengthen them against the threats that go beyond viruses.
"One has to recognize the lung is the only organ system that is directly exposed to the environment," said Faisal Khan, MD, pulmonologist in Indianapolis. "Normally we have decent systems in the lungs, which protect us against air pollution and some germs, but those systems have limitations, and this is coming more to the forefront with the COVID-19 situation."
Begin With What You're Breathing
So, what can be done to improve your lung health? Begin with what you're breathing into your body.
"The fundamental concept we have to recognize is that lungs are primarily designed to exchange air, so they're not meant to inhale anything other than that," Dr. Khan said.
The quality of the air we breathe is important as well. Dr. Khan recommends making sure that ventilation systems in our homes and workplaces are well maintained. If you're in an occupation with a lot of air pollution or dust, then follow guidelines to wear masks and protective equipment. Those with underlying lung disease, such as asthma, should stay inside during ozone action days when outdoor air quality is reduced.
If you're a smoker, the best thing you can do is find a way to quit. Franciscan Health offers the Aspire Tobacco Cessation program to help people learn new skills to break the habit. While vaping has been touted as a better alternative, the American Lung Association reports that even in small doses, inhaling the harmful chemicals in e-cigarettes can cause irreversible lung damage and disease, including an increase in the likelihood of COVID-19.
Keep Exercise Consistent
Even though cooler weather makes it tempting to stay indoors, continue with your exercise routine. Exercise is another key to stronger lungs.
"Exercise has its benefits, not only in directly making our lungs more efficient in oxygen exchange, but also improving the coordination of lungs with other organ systems like the heart to make the whole cardiovascular respiratory system more efficient," Dr. Khan said.
Your Doctor Is A Resource
Finally, check with your healthcare provider to make sure you’re up to date on influenza and pneumonia vaccines. With the danger of COVID-19, whatever can be done to prevent other infections will not only lessen your personal risk, but also relieve overall strain on the healthcare system.
Regular checkups are the ideal way to monitor lung health, while watching for common symptoms of lung disease, such as a persistent cough that lasts for months, shortness of breath that is new and gradually getting worse. Coughing up blood, even small amounts, swelling in your legs or chest pain and tightness can also be signs of serious problems that call for a visit to the doctor, Dr. Khan said.