Smoking and lack of physical activity are some of the top behaviors that can harm the lungs, but being aware of these risk factors can help reduce the risk for serious lung conditions.
Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer are some of the most common lung problems in the U.S. Taking good care of your lungs is essential to reducing your risk for conditions such as these.
Certain behaviors can cause great harm to your lungs, especially when you practice them for a long time. Here’s a look at the lifestyle behaviors that can harm your lungs the most and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center if you think you might need treatment for a lung problem.
Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer and COPD, says the American Lung Association. In people with asthma, smoking can trigger asthma attacks or make them worse. Also, the CDC says that smokers are 12 to 13 times more likely to die from COPD than people who don’t smoke.
Cigarettes can affect the tissue in your lungs and prevent them from working properly. Every puff taken from a cigarette contains more than 7,000 chemicals—including carbon monoxide, reports the FDA. Carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen in your blood. This causes your organs to receive less oxygen. When you smoke cigarettes and other tobacco products, all their chemicals enter your bloodstream and are transported to the rest of your body.
When you breathe, your lungs deliver oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body. When you smoke, you are reducing your lungs’ ability to carry out this vital task.
The FDA adds that cigarette smoke can cause a sore throat. It can also cause lung damage that cannot be reversed. Smoking can even destroy the tiny hairs in your airway called cilia. Cilia help keep dirt and mucus out of your lungs. When your cilia are destroyed, you are more likely to develop long-lasting cough.
If you smoke, try to stop as soon as possible. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation treatments that can help you quit. Your doctor may prescribe medications or recommend the best forms of nicotine replacement.
Exposing Yourself To Pollutants
A wide variety of indoor and outdoor pollutants can cause or worsen lung disease. Examples of pollutants that can harm the lungs include secondhand smoke, radon, and smog.
Sometimes it can be difficult to avoid certain pollutants, especially if you live or work around them. According to a 2016 study published in Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine, air pollution affects nine in 10 people who live in urban areas. It adds that exposure to air pollution is the ninth leading risk factor for heart and lung-related deaths.
If possible, reduce your exposure to both indoor and outdoor pollutants. Wear protective gear at work that allows you to breathe clean air. Use a radon test kit to test your home for radon. Watch the weather forecast and don’t exercise outside when the air is too smoggy. If you live with someone who smokes, ask them to smoke outdoors. You can also talk to them about the importance of quitting.
Not Exercising Regularly
Exercise helps strengthen your lungs. It can help your body get better at putting oxygen in your bloodstream and delivering it to your muscles. Certain exercises can also strengthen your diaphragm and the muscles between your ribs to make it easier for you to breathe.
If you don’t exercise regularly, you may have difficulty breathing at times you are active. Aim to do a combination of aerobic exercises and strength-training exercises. Examples of aerobic activities that are great for the lungs are running, swimming, walking, and biking.
You can also do a series of breathing exercises to improve your lung function. Two exercises you can do are pursed lip breathing and belly breathing. Do the below exercises for at least five to 10 minutes every day.
Pursed Lip Breathing
Pursed lip breathing can help you keep your airways open longer. It can allow more air to flow in and out of the lungs. To do this exercise, breathe in through your nose. Then, purse your lips, and breathe out for at least twice as long through your mouth.
Belly breathing is also known as diaphragmic breathing. This exercise allows you to retrain your diaphragm to help you properly breathe and fill and empty your lungs. To do belly breathing, start breathing in through your nose. Your belly should rise and fill up with air. Then, breathe out through your mouth for at least three times as long as your inhale was. Make sure your neck and shoulders are relaxed when exhaling.
Your doctor can also show you breathing exercises that can help you improve your lung function.
Demonstrating Poor Posture
When you slouch or hunch forward, your lungs have less room in which to expand. Over time, poor posture can make it difficult for your lungs to take in enough oxygen and send it to your organs.
Poor posture can also interfere with your breathing patterns. It can lead to shallow breathing that makes you take in less oxygen. This can weaken your lungs in the long term.
Talk to your doctor about posture during your next annual exam or physical. Your doctor can take a look at your posture to see whether it needs improving. If it does, your doctor can show you ways to improve your posture so you can benefit from better lung health.
Eating Unhealthy Foods
A diet high in sugars and fats can increase inflammation throughout your body. This includes your lungs. Common symptoms of lung inflammation are wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. You may also feel really tired after exercising or feel tightness in the chest.
Start eating fewer candies and sweets. Stop eating fast foods and fatty foods like fried chicken, donuts, and processed meats. Instead, focus on eating higher amounts of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and poultry.
Fiber may also help you improve your lung health. According to a 2016 study published in Annals of the American Thoracic Society, people who eat high amounts of fiber tend to have the highest lung function. They are also shown to have the most normal lung function. Oats, beans, apples, pears, and whole-wheat pasta are some of many healthy foods high in fiber.
It’s not always possible to avoid illnesses and infections. However, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your risk of getting sick. Colds and respiratory infections such as pneumonia and COVID-19 can sometimes become serious enough to cause major lung problems.
Wash your hands regularly using soap and clean water. Strengthen your immune system by exercising often and eating nutritious foods. Get vaccinated regularly for the flu and COVID-19. Avoid crowds during the flu and cold season. If your friends, coworkers, and loved ones are sick, encourage them to stay home or isolate themselves. They can help them avoid spreading illnesses to others.
Risk Factors For Lung Problems
Many of the behaviors mentioned in this article are also risk factors for lung problems. Smoking, exposure to pollutants, and lack of exercise are all common risk factors for poor lung health.
Other risk factors for lung conditions include:
- Being overweight or obese.
- Having a family history of lung problems.
- Getting a viral respiratory infection.
- Having allergies.
- Poor nutrition.
- High blood pressure.
Talk to your doctor if you meet any of the above risk factors for lung conditions. Many of the above risk factors are asthma, COPD, and lung disease. Your doctor can work with you to develop a preventative health plan so you can avoid lung problems. For example, your doctor can help you stop smoking or lose excess weight. Addressing these risk factors as early on as possible can help you maintain good lung health.
When To See a Doctor
Doctors who specialize in lung health are called pulmonologists. If you have symptoms of a lung problem, your doctor may refer you to a pulmonologist for treatment.
Signs you should see a doctor for lung problems include:
- Pain or tightness in the chest.
- Chronic chest pain. This is when you have pain in your chest for at least one month.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Difficulty breathing, especially when exercising.
- Shortness of breath when not exercising.
- Wheezing. Wheezing is noisy breathing. This means something unusual could be blocking your airways or making them narrow.
- Bronchitis or colds that keep coming back.
- Asthma, especially if you cannot control it or are not sure what’s triggering it.
- Chronic cough. This is a cough that has lasted for at least eight weeks.
- Chronic mucus production. This is when your body has been making lots of phlegm, or mucus, for at least one month.
- Coughing up blood.
Some of the above symptoms are signs of lung disease. Don’t hesitate to contact your doctor if you feel that something is “off” about the way you breathe.
Caring For Your Lungs With Lompoc Valley Medical Center
Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to a large team of board-certified doctors who can diagnose and treat lung-related health problems. Contact us today at (805) 737-3382 to request an appointment and learn more about our many healthcare services.