Whether you are in perfect health, or you are living with a lung condition such as Asthma or COPD, there is a lot you can do to protect your lungs and thereby maintain your overall health and well-being.
For decades there have been several warning signs of deteriorating lung health in the populations across the world. As the interface between the body and the outside environment, our lungs are one of the most vulnerable organs of our body. With every breath of air that enters providing oxygen, vital to life, allergens (particles which cause allergies), infectious agents and environmental toxins also find their way in. These are known to cause airway diseases, of varying severity, resulting in poor lung health over the course of time. Until a year ago, air pollution was seen as the primary cause of worsening airway and lung disease, especially in the more susceptible population including children, the elderly and pregnant women. Today, fighting pollution seems like an old battle. Over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the importance of lung health to the forefront of healthcare. It has turned the world upside down and shone a spotlight on the devastating impact that respiratory conditions can have on people’s lives.
Given that patients with COVID-19 are facing long-term breathing challenges, protecting the at-risk groups and improving lung health has never been more critical. In a survey by the American Lung Association, a majority (63%) of the respondents reported they were most worried about their family’s or loved one's lung health, and nearly half (48%) of the respondents reported being most concerned about their lung health since the pandemic began.
Overall, India’s 2.7 billion lungs are not in great shape even among the seemingly healthy population. Around 35 percent of school-going children in India suffer from poor lung health according to a nationwide survey report titled Breathe Blue'15. The results of another national survey called the Longitudinal Ageing Study in India (LASI), - showed that an alarming 50 per cent of people aged 45 years and above have abnormal lung function.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 80 per cent of COVID-19 infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15 per cent result in moderate to severe symptoms (requiring oxygen) and about 5 per cent are critical infections, which require intensive care treatment. CT scans of patients’ lungs with severe disease show patches of swelling and fluid in the lung tissue giving a ‘ground glass’ appearance, the tell-tale sign of COVID-19. The inflammation of the lung tissue causes the air sacs to fill up with fluid and makes the lung stiff and less elastic, inhibiting its ability to expand and contract. Air capacity is diminished, and many patients work harder to breathe. Damage to lung tissue often results in scarring, which can limit the elasticity of the lung and decrease its function even after the initial damage has passed, making it difficult for the lungs to resume normal function for a long time.
Lung wellness - important now more than ever before
It is crucial to not take your lungs for granted. Whether you are in perfect health, or you are living with a lung condition such as Asthma or COPD, there is a lot you can do to protect your lungs and thereby maintain your overall health and well-being.
Avoiding active and passive smoking has been recommended for a long time. Besides, regular exercise can make your lungs and heart stronger. In addition, breathing exercises are the most efficient route to improving lung health. Diaphragmatic, abdominal or belly breathing, pursed lips breathing, Active Cycle of Breathing Technique (ACBT), balloon and candle blowing exercise are just some examples of breathing exercises that are recommended for all, including those recovering from COVID-19. Recent research also suggests that good oral health can contribute to better lung health. And finally, lung health begins in utero and there is increased understanding now, that early life interventions can alter the trajectory of lung health.
Breathing is synonymous with life. Most times, we breathe automatically, often unaware of the process. Becoming aware of breathing is the first step in learning to use it for our benefit-by improving not only the lung capacity, but through it, improving our overall health.