Healthy life, healthy lungs
By Lilianne Fuller
The ability to breathe is something we take for granted, until we can’t. For over 10 percent of Albertans, the struggle to breathe is a daily one.
Our lungs serve two very important functions. First, and most obvious, they are the means by which we breathe, but lungs also cleanse the blood of toxins caused by everyday living.
The left lung is smaller than the right to make room for the heart. The lungs are made up of numerous air sacs that expand and contract as we breathe. Remarkably, the lungs contain almost 2,400 kilometers or 1,500 miles of airways and their surface area would be the size of one half of a tennis court!
When a person receives a diagnosis of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) it’s assumed they are, or were, heavy smokers. This isn’t always true and according to the Alberta Lung Association, it doesn’t matter if a person smoked for many years, or the quantity of cigarettes they consumed, they could still be at risk of undetected COPD. Poor indoor/outdoor air quality, chemical fumes, and air pollution are all factors that can contribute to developing lung disease. These factors can also aggravate symptoms in a person living with lung disease.
While smoking is usually the culprit in a person getting lung disease there are other factors that must be considered. There could be something in your home that is a problem. Radon gas is a radioactive gas that is invisible, odourless and tasteless. Studies have shown it to be a cause of lung cancer and other lung diseases. The Alberta Lung Association have ‘Do it Yourself’ Radon gas testing kits and Radon detectors available for purchase online. www.ab.lung.ca/radon.
Emphysema is the early stage of COPD and many doctors will now just tell you that you have COPD. It is a progressive, chronic and eventually a terminal disease. Some people are born with a rare genetic disorder that causes emphysema. It isn’t inflammation of the airways that cause symptoms, instead, the air sacs are damaged. This makes it increasingly hard to breathe. Symptoms include feeling tired, losing weight without trying, and wheezing and shortness of breath.
Every year ,250 Canadians die from complications associated with Asthma. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease with symptoms that, like Emphysema, include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and a tightness in the chest. It afflicts children and adults and its cause is not known. What is known, are some of the triggers that will cause an asthma attack: dust mites, pollens, viral infections and air pollutants. While there is no cure for asthma, there are ways to alleviate the symptoms. A great resource is the Asthma Society of Canada, www.asthma.ca or 1-866-787-4050.
According to the Canadian Lung Association, some people think that shortness of breath is a normal sign of aging. But it’s not. If you, or someone you know, are experiencing symptoms, it’s a good idea to talk to the doctor. He or she will order a chest X-ray and a Spirometry. This test measures how much air moves in and out of the lungs.
If you have COPD or another form of lung disease, you aren’t alone. Coordinated by the Alberta Lung Association, there are support groups for those with respiratory illness in the province. For example, in Edmonton, you will find the Edmonton C.O.L.D. (Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease) Respiratory Problems Club. In Calgary, the Lung Association has partnered with Breathe Well Physio in Calgary to offer an innovative way to improve respiratory health through the Breathe, Sing, and Move Program. This is a program that combines respiratory physiotherapy and singing for better lung health.
The Alberta Lung Association suggests the best ways to maintain good lung health are to quit smoking, avoid second-hand smoke, exercise, and if possible, convert your fireplace to cleaner natural gas rather than using wood. They also recommend that you wash your hands with soap and water regularly. Many viruses and bacteria that cause lung problems can be avoided by simply washing your hands.
To maintain a healthy life, look after your lungs. Contact the Alberta Lung Association at 1-800-566-lung(5864) for more information on maintaining good lung health.