If you’ve never cared for your lungs by always smoking or inhaling polluted air, now is the time to seriously take care of your lungs. As the coronavirus pandemic lingers on, health experts have said people with healthy lungs are at lower risk of contracting the virus.
The reasons are twofold. First, air pollution can cause or aggravate respiratory illnesses like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to the American Lung Association. These illnesses can make you more susceptible to the worst effects of lung infections.
Second, exposure to air pollution is known to raise the chance of contracting viruses in the first place, regardless of underlying health conditions.
A spokesperson for the ALA and an associate professor of pulmonary and critical care at Johns Hopkins University, Dr Meredith McCormack, said in an article in the New York Times that exposure to air pollution could increase susceptibility to infection.
“All things being equal, a person exposed to air pollution would likely have a worse outcome if they were exposed to coronavirus,” she said.
Although air pollution is said to have dropped sharply in many parts of the world recently, as businesses are shut down and people stay home to avoid spreading the virus, McCormack noted that there were still areas of high exposure.
“Power plants and refineries, for example, are considered essential and unlikely to close. Moreover, even if pollution is down for now, chronic exposure can’t be mended so quickly. For a person living with daily pollution exposure, the damage to their respiratory and immune system is done,” she said.
Furthermore, the ALA said though the body had a natural defence system designed to protect the lungs, there were some important things to do to reduce the risk of lung disease.
Hence, the following are some ways to keep your lungs healthy and minimise your risk of contracting coronavirus, which had infected over one million and killed over 54,000 people globally as of Friday, according to the World Health Organisation.
You’ve probably heard this advice a million times before and it’s because it’s true – smoking, chewing tobacco and similar products are not good for your lungs, or overall health.
There’s a reason every health professional and organisation says this over and over again: quitting smoking is the most effective way to keep your respiratory system strong and healthy.
Cigarette smoking is the major cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Cigarette smoke can narrow the air passages and make breathing more difficult. It causes chronic inflammation, or swelling in the lung, which can lead to chronic bronchitis. Over time, cigarette smoke destroys lung tissue and may trigger changes that grow into cancer. If you smoke, it’s never too late to quit, especially during this period.
Discard the air freshener
Apart from smoke, regular exposure to other pollutants such as paint, diesel fumes, solvents, wood shavings, even household cleaners can damage lungs.
Household cleaners and air fresheners can also hurt your lungs, especially if they are sprays. But if you spray air freshener or insecticide, don’t walk through it immediately. Let the odour circulate properly before staying where you sprayed.
According to the ALA, some cleaners release dangerous fumes, such as bleach and ammonia, which should never be mixed because they react to form chlorine gas. Others contain toxic volatile organic compounds or fragrances that combine with ozone to form formaldehyde. These can cause allergic reactions, irritate lungs and worsen asthma, a chronic condition of inflamed airways that narrow when reacting to inhaled substances.
The ALA suggested that most cleaning be done with soapy water and urged that air fresheners, even ones labelled as having natural ingredients, not to be used at all.
Avoid exposure to indoor/outdoor pollutants
Second-hand smoke, chemicals in the home and workplace, and radon (which can be exposed to by breathing in air that comes through cracks and gaps in buildings and homes) can all cause or worsen lung disease. Now is the time to make your home and car smoke-free.
Test your home for radon. Avoid exercising outdoors on bad air days. Talk to your health care provider if you are worried that something in your home or work may be making you sick.
Also, it is advisable to minimise exposure to outdoor air pollution. According to the ALA, the air quality outside can vary from day to day and sometimes unhealthy to breathe.
Knowing how outdoor air pollution affects your health and useful strategies to minimise prolonged exposure can keep you and your family well. Climate change and natural disasters can also directly impact on lung health.
McCormack said for people living in proximity to major sources of pollution, opening a window might not be a good idea.
She said, “That’s where an air purifier might be worth the investment if you can afford it. It’s important to think about allergens, too. If you smell anything musty around you home, you should investigate. Mould aggravates asthma. This might be the time to address damp spot or water damage problems.
“This might also be the time to pest-proof your home. Mice and cockroaches can provoke asthma. Fill all cracks around the house that might let in pests and properly store food that might entice them.”
Also, add some greenery to your home for improved air quality because adding plants to your home increases the oxygen and air quality thanks to plants’ natural abilities to remove certain toxins from the air.
Don’t fry foods if possible
Frying foods or cooking without good ventilation can also increase indoor air pollution. Nitrogen oxides from gas stoves are a known respiratory irritant, as it is the fine particulate matter that is most likely wafting off your roasts. You should turn on the ventilation hood above your stove and open windows if you can.
In the meantime, there are certain foods and herbs good for the lungs. These are water, broccoli, apple, ginger, walnut, turmeric, garlic, blueberry, cayenne pepper, apricot, and oily fish. Others are grapefruit, poultry products, pomegranate, beans, cruciferous vegetables, and chili pepper.
Whether you are young or old, slender or large, able-bodied or living with a chronic illness or disability, being physically active can help keep your lungs healthy.
When you are physically active, your heart and lungs work harder to supply the additional oxygen your muscles demand. Like regular exercise makes your muscles stronger, it also makes your lungs and heart stronger. As your physical fitness improves, your body becomes more efficient at getting oxygen into the bloodstream and transporting it to the working muscles. That’s one of the reasons you are less likely to become short of breath during exercise over time.
Both aerobic activities and muscle-strengthening activities can benefit your lungs. Aerobic activities like walking, running or jumping rope give your heart and lungs the kind of workout they need to function efficiently.
Muscle-strengthening activities like weight-lifting or Pilates build core strength, improve your posture, and tone your breathing muscles. Breathing exercises, in particular, can strengthen your diaphragm and train your body to breathe more deeply and more effectively.
Meanwhile, always talk to your doctor before you start or modify your exercise routine. This is especially important if you have an underlying health condition.
Laugh a lot
Laughing is not just good for the soul, it’s also good for the lungs. The action of laughing gives your abdomen and diaphragm a workout. Deep belly laughs help to force out stale air from the lungs. Maybe you should watch more comic shows now more than ever before.
Adopt good posture
Allow your lungs the space they need to fully inflate and deflate by sitting and standing up straight. Hunching over can push the stomach and other organs into the lungs. Sitting straight with your hands above your head, or leaning back and pushing out your chest from time to time will give your lungs extra room.
Remember your medications
If you’re taking maintenance medication for asthma, like an inhaler, don’t forget to use it. “Remembering to take it can be challenging, particularly at a time like this when we aren’t in the same routines,” McCormack said. “But it’s an important step to protect yourself, particularly now.”
She added, “With indoor pollution, we have a lot of control over more aspects of our exposure.
“In addition to a source of risk, it’s a source of opportunity. It’s a good time to change habits.”
Get regular checkups
Regular checkups help prevent diseases even when you are feeling well. This is especially true for lung disease, which sometimes goes undetected until it is serious. During a checkup, your doctor will listen to your breathing to know if you need medical attention.
Other tips to prevent infection
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. Alcohol-based cleaners are a good substitute if you cannot wash
- Avoids crowds during the cold and flu season
- Good oral hygiene can protect you from the germs in your mouth leading to infections. Brush your teeth at least twice daily and see your dentist at least every six months
- Get vaccinated every year against influenza. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out if the pneumonia vaccine is right for you
- If you get sick, keep it to yourself! Protect the people around you, including your loved ones, by keeping your distance. Stay home from work or school until you feel better.
Sources: nytimes.com, lung.com, genesismedical.org, capecodhealth.org, pulmonaryhypertensionnews.com Copyright PUNCH.