With every breath, the lungs take in oxygen and transfer it to the blood. With every exhale, the lungs expel the carbon dioxide that has been picked up from the blood. We take thousands of breaths every day without giving it any thought. Here, we discuss why we should.
Our lungs are protective. They help keep germs at bay and are also integral to long-term health and wellness. During the first few waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned just how important lung health is, and also just how susceptible we might be to lung damage. It isn’t only a respiratory illness like COVID that may threaten lung health. There are several other potential triggers, which you should know so you do not inadvertently put your lungs at risk.
It should go without saying that smoking is one of the most prominent avoidable factors that contribute to a decline in lung health. Numerous studies have proven that smokers are significantly more likely than nonsmokers to develop lung cancer. This habit is also a primary contributor to COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. Cigarettes contain not only carcinogens but other irritants that cause inflammation and narrowing of the respiratory passageways, making it more difficult to breathe. Fortunately, studies also show that smoking cessation, even after many years of smoking, quickly reduces one’s risk of lung cancer.
In recent years, vaping has become a popular trend. It is done not only by adults but also teens and is mistaken as a “safe” alternative for smoking cigarettes. Vaping is often referred to as “smokeless,” but that does not make it safe. Not for the lungs. The smokeless vapors come from what is called e-liquid. Research has shown that e-liquid contains some pretty concerning irritants, including formaldehyde, acrolein, and diacetyl. Each of these can damage the lungs and also contribute to heart disease. Many vaping products have also been found to have vitamin E, which is only safe when applied to the skin or taken in pill form; it is not safe to inhale. In addition to increasing the risk of heart disease, vaping is also associated with a condition called popcorn lung, which causes coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. It may also cause lipoid pneumonia, a type of lung inflammation. All in all, vaping is less dangerous than smoking cigarettes, but marginally.
The quality of both outdoor and indoor air affects the lungs. While minimal exposure to environmental irritants may not cause irreparable lung damage, it is associated with symptoms like coughing, difficulty breathing, and getting winded more easily. Prolonged exposure to irritants can contribute to chronic bronchitis, asthma, diminished lung capacity, and even lung cancer. While it isn’t possible to completely avoid all of the contaminants that may travel through the air, there are ways to protect the lungs. Suggestions include adding a HEPA filter to your home HVAC system, vacuuming and dusting on a weekly basis, and cooking in a well-ventilated area.
If you or someone you love experiences a chronic cough or cough that produces blood, shortness of breath for no apparent reason, or chest pain that worsens with deep breathing, laughing, or coughing, talk to a doctor.
MXBowen Physician, P.C. has two offices in NYC to serve you. To schedule a consultation for pulmonary care, contact us at 212.480.4062.