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Summer 2008

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Lung Health Tips

PhotoWhen respiratory therapists discuss lung disease with their patients, they usually talk about three different aspects: why they contracted their lung disease in the first place, how to keep from getting sicker, and how to prevent their family members from getting lung disease. This article covers some helpful tips for keeping your lung disease under control.

Don’t smoke
Smoking is one of the most damaging things you can do to your lungs. If you have asthma, you can damage your lungs even more by smoking.

Avoid secondhand smoke
You can damage your lungs and worsen your condition if you are constantly around friends and/or family who smoke in your presence. Breathing secondhand smoke can often be just as harmful as smoking.

Air pollution
Air pollution can worsen breathing problems in a person who already has lung disease. On days when ozone alerts are issued, limit the time you spend outside.

Occupational exposure
Occupational exposures to dust and chemicals increase the risk of developing lung disease. If you breathe better when you’re not at work, then your work environment may be impacting your lung condition. Talk with your health care provider about testing and/or treatment.

Low birthweight
Lung growth is affected by processes that occur at birth (low birthweight babies), environmental exposures, and exposures during the gestation. Pregnant women need to quit smoking before they give birth and maintain smoking cessation. Anything that can affect the development of the lungs as a child has the potential to increase the risk of developing lung disease as an adult.

Frequent, severe respiratory infections
If you had repeated lung infections as a child, you could be at greater risk for developing a serious lung disease later in life. Not much can be done in adulthood to change any damage, but take care to avoid the things discussed above that could further damage your lungs.

Preventing the spread of infections is crucial to people who have lung disease. Both viral and bacterial infections can cause severe airway inflammation. Getting your yearly flu shot is extremely important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site ( is a good source of the latest in flu vaccine information. Also, make sure you get your pneumococcal vaccine. Again, check the CDC web site for patient information. While vaccines may not prevent you from getting sick, they can help you lessen any further complications.

Hand Washing
Hand washing is important to preventing the spread of disease and germs. Singing the ABCs while washing can help you know when you have done it long enough.

Clean home care equipment
Be sure to keep your respiratory equipment clean. If you have germs and gunk left in your equipment after using it, you will be breathing that stuff in during your next treatment.

Careful during flu season
During the cold and flu season, avoid large crowds, eat well and get enough rest. Maintaining a healthy immune system can help you fight lung infections.

About the Author
Debra M. Koehl, MS, RRT-NPS, RPFT, AE-C, a respiratory therapist, is the pulmonary rehabilitation and patient education program coordinator at Clarian Health, Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, IN. She also chairs the AARC Continuing Care-Rehabilitation Specialty Section.

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