Protect Your Lungs from COPD and COVID-19

Woman breathing

Never take breathing for granted. It’s a gift that should be protected. (Photo courtesy Canva)

Do you ever feel short of breath, or find yourself wheezing or tired when you attempt to exercise? Perhaps you have a chronic cough you just can’t seem to shake. Have you ever noticed that your fingernails or lips turn blue? Or maybe you’ve noticed that your legs, ankles and feet swell? Although these problems are common with asthmatics, they can also be indications that you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition which puts you at risk of contracting the new coronavirus.

Benjamin J. Seides, M.D., director of interventional pulmonology at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois explains, “COPD is a blanket term for respiratory diseases characterized by an inability to breathe out fully.” It shows up in patients in two form: as emphysema, which damages and ultimately destroys the air sacs in our lungs; and as chronic bronchitis, where the bronchial tubes get inflamed, which results in coughing and difficulty breathing.

Why do these conditions make patients more susceptible to catching COVID-19? It’s because the new illness which is caused by the coronavirus attacks the part of our lungs where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. That’s why the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is telling folks who suffer from symptoms of COPD—as well as current and former smokers—to stay sharp, stay alert, and take extra measures to protect themselves. But how do you stay on guard? And what should you avoid if you’re among the many at risk? Here’s a list that can help.

Stop smoking. 75 percent of individuals with COPD either smoke—or used to smoke—cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and marijuana. Smoking accelerates your lungs aging process significantly. Although quitting won’t undo the damage already done, it will return your lungs to their normal aging rate, according to Seides.

Avoid secondhand smoke. Even if you have never smoked a day in your life, frequently being around secondhand smoke can really do a number on your lungs. In fact, you may actually suffer nearly as many problems as the smokers themselves. So stay clear every chance you get.

Stay inside on days with heavy smog or high pollen counts. Shut the windows, and find something to do indoors. Air pollution is not your friend. Also, if you drive in metropolitan areas where there is lots of pollution, have your car’s cabin air filter changed at least twice a year.

Get vaccinated annually. You can’t afford to get the flu. It is very hard on your system, so get the flu shot. Also, ask your doctor if you should get the pneumonia vaccine as well.

Take vitamin D. A 2018 study shows that vitamin D may just make your lungs stronger and lower inflammation when you encounter respiratory pathogens.

Sleep slightly upright or on your left side. These positions will help you avoid acid reflux, which makes COPD symptoms even worse, according to MeiLan King Han, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Lung Association.

Cut out the cold cuts. Processed meats aren’t your friend, so eliminate hot dogs, cold cuts, and bacon from your diet as they can worsen COPD symptoms.

Eat watercress, not lettuce. There’s a compound called phenethyl isothiocyanate in watercress which has been known to block the progression of lung cancer and ease respiratory inflammation.

Brush your teeth. Finally, brush twice daily and see your dentist twice a year. Doing so can maintain your oral hygiene and protect you from the germs in your mouth that can lead to infections.

At the end of the day, if you suffer from any respiratory problems at all, consult your primary care physician immediately. They might send you to a pulmonologist (lung specialist) who can properly test your lungs to see just how well they are working and issue the treatments best suited to your condition.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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