— Healthy lungs are fundamental to our health and well-being. Yet we inflict almost daily damage to this essential organ through smoking, secondhand smoke and chemical exposure. Let’s examine some facts and fallacies so that you can keep your lungs healthy.
1. Family history factors into the likelihood of developing a respiratory illness.
TRUE. Respiratory illnesses such as asthma, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be genetic. If you have any of these conditions in your family history, preventative care and careful monitoring of unusual or recurring health symptoms is important.
2. Acid reflux could be the cause of chronic cough.
TRUE. Many cases of chronic cough stem from gastrointestinal issues such as acid reflux. A cough is the initial symptom, leading to heartburn as the condition worsens. Asthma, postnasal drip and tobacco use also cause chronic cough.
A chronic cough shouldn’t be ignored. It can interrupt sleep patterns, and, in more severe cases, cause vomiting, lightheadedness and even broken ribs.
3. There is a link between radon and respiratory illness.
TRUE. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the No. 2 cause of lung cancer overall. It causes roughly 21,000 deaths each year.
The first step is to have your basement tested for unhealthy radon levels. If indicated, contact a qualified radon service professional to properly ventilate your home.
4. Smoking won’t kill me…or anyone else.
FALSE. The Surgeon General’s 2010 report states that one out of every three cancer deaths in the United States would not occur if no one smoked. Furthermore, almost 90 percent of men who died from lung cancer smoked.
The impact on non-smokers is also significant, with secondhand smoke exposure related to approximately 3,000 adult deaths per year. In fact, non-smokers have a 20 to 30 percent higher risk of developing lung cancer if exposed to secondhand smoke, per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Pregnant women should be aware that smoking has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight, as well as increased chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
5. The symptoms of lung cancer are obvious.
FALSE. Lung cancer tends to act silently. The tissue that lung cancer affects resides on the inside of the lung. Because we only feel pain on the outer part of our lungs, early detection can be difficult.
If you experience a chronic cough, persistent chest pain during deep breathing or unexplained weight loss, alert your health care provider about these warning signs.
6. You can take action today to improve your lung health.
TRUE. The best way to fight respiratory illness is by not smoking or – if you do – by quitting immediately. Regular aerobic exercise can also counter breathing issues and make your lungs and breathing muscles stronger. Additionally, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein helps fight all types of illness.
If you have concerns about respiratory illness, please contact your health care provider team.
Jamil Taji, M.D., is a pulmonary specialist at Mayo Clinic Health System.
For more information, please go to www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org.
Health & Fitness coverage is supported by Mayo Clinic Health System, preserving the health and well-being of southern Minnesota communities.