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Published on May 17, 2019

Breathe Easier: Steps to Healthy Lungs

Breathe Easier


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a smoking-induced lung disease. It affects more than 16 million Americans according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Emphysema is caused by damage to the lining of the air sacs in the lungs. Smoking causes the air sacs to get holes in them. Lungs lose their elasticity and capacity to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Smoking also damages the lining of the airways, which causes chronic bronchitis (also known as “smoker’s cough”).

Patients may have emphysema in some parts of their lungs and chronic bronchitis in others; together, they create COPD.

Symptoms of COPD include:

  • Shortness of breath and inability to do things you used to do.
  • Not being able to take a deep breath.
  • Wheezing.
  • Chronic cough (a cough that lasts longer than 3 months)—with or without mucus.
  • Frequent chest colds.

A breathing test that measures lung capacity can be used in patients with COPD symptoms to diagnose the disease. Emphysema can be diagnosed with some chest X-rays.

Although there is no cure for COPD, it can be treated. Smoking cessation is the most important step. There are also breathing medications that can help decrease shortness of breath and improve quality of life. Cone Health has a pulmonary rehabilitation program, which includes aerobic exercises to improve conditioning and strength training to improve breathing muscles. For advanced (stage 4) COPD, patients may need oxygen if their levels are less than 88%.

Breathe Easier: Asthma

Asthma is a condition that can make it hard for an individual to breathe, with most common symptoms including wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Symptoms can occur daily, weekly or less often and can range from mild to severe. Like many other diseases and health conditions, if detected early, the progression of asthma can be modified–especially in children. One of the most effective ways to treat and manage asthma is to quickly identify and modify triggers around the home.

People complain a lot about what’s outside, especially during this time of year with the presence of pollen, but the air inside of our homes can sometimes be worse. For people with asthma, indoor air quality is of utmost importance.

Smoking is one of the biggest triggers for both adults and children with asthma. Residual soot and smoke are hard to see, but can build up in homes and on clothing. If you must smoke, do it outside, and then take steps to try to quit.

People often don’t understand the importance or simply forget to change their indoor air filters. Make sure you buy the right size filter for your system and change it regularly. The average home needs its filter changed every 90 days.

Clean your home regularly and keep an eye on excess moisture (likely caused by things like leaky faucets and roofs). Not only does moisture attract cockroaches, a trigger for asthma, but it can trigger mold, which causes allergies as well.

Scented candles and air fresheners are also asthma triggers.

Smoking and Lung Health

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Smoking causes you to be more prone to infection because your lungs can’t clean themselves, and it turns normal cells into cancer cells. Cigarette smoking kills 1,300 people each day in our country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 50 of the 7,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke are carcinogens, including:

  • Arsenic.
  • Formaldehyde.
  • Acetone.
  • Ammonia.
  • Carbon monoxide.
  • Hydrogen cyanide.

Cigarette smoking remains the single greatest preventable cause of illness and death in the world.

Within 20 minutes after you smoke your last cigarette, your body begins a series of changes that continues for years. After quitting:

  • 20 minutes: Your heart rate drops.
  • 2 weeks-3 months: Your heart attack risk begins to drop and your lung function begins to improve.
  • 1-9 months: Your coughing and shortness of breath decrease.
  • 1 year: Your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker.
  • 5-15 years: Your stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker.
  • 10 years: Your lung cancer death rate is about half that of a smoker. Your risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney and pancreas decreases.
  • 15 years: Your risk of coronary heart disease is back to that of a nonsmoker.

Cone Health offers a free program called QuitSmart to help you quit smoking permanently. The QuitSmart program, offered in Greensboro, High Point, Burlington and Reidsville, uses a “warm chicken” approach instead of encouraging people to quit “cold turkey.” Rather than quitting smoking all at once, the approach slowly weans your body off of nicotine by switching to cigarette brands with less and less nicotine. Over the course of 2 weeks, you will gradually reduce the amount of nicotine to zero. The QuitSmart program takes about 4 weeks to complete, and you do not need to have already quit smoking before you attend. The success of this program is based on the support individuals find in each other. You are not alone in your efforts to quit smoking and others going through the same thing are there to help you, encourage you and keep you accountable to live a more healthy lifestyle.

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