Breathe Easy During Respiratory Care Week
Oct. 24-30 is Respiratory Care Week — what are you doing to maintain good lung health? Enjoying a deep breath of clean, fresh air is a simple pleasure many Americans take for granted. But numerous illnesses and conditions both short-term and long-lasting can impede one of the body’s most basic functions and can lead to serious, life-threatening consequences. Learn more about how various respiratory illnesses can affect the body and how to keep your respiratory system safe and healthy.
About Respiratory Illnesses
Respiratory illnesses include any condition that affects the lungs and respiratory system, which includes the nose and nasal cavities, sinuses, pharynx, larynx, and trachea. These illnesses can vary in terms of severity — from short and mild annoyances to fatal medical conditions — and have numerous causes that range from bacteria and viruses to genetics. Some common respiratory illnesses include:
- Asthma — Chronic condition that can inflame or constrict the airways; often begins during childhood and may be triggered by pollen, exercise, viral conditions, and even temperature
- Bronchitis — Irritation or inflammation of the bronchial tubes — the airways to the lungs — characterized by a deep, mucus-producing cough
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — Group of diseases including emphysema and chronic bronchitis that block the airways and result in breathing-related problems such as coughing or wheezing, excess production of phlegm, shortness of breath, and trouble breathing
- Common cold — Viral, infectious infection of the nose, throat, and sinuses that is usually harmless and clears up in about two weeks
- COVID-19 — Viral and transmissible infection of the upper respiratory system with symptoms mimicking the common cold and flu; may vary in severity depending on the patient’s health and underlying conditions; may carry long-term side effects
- Influenza — Contagious, viral illness that can range in severity and characterized by symptoms like fever and chills, muscle and body aches, fatigue, and cold-like symptoms
- Lung cancer — Third most common cancer in the United States; may metastasize to other parts of the body
- Pharyngitis — Painful condition caused by inflammation of the pharynx (i.e., back of the throat)
- Pneumonia — Bacterial inflammation of one or both lungs that can lead to fluid and pus filling the air sacs; can vary in severity based on factors such as age, health, and cause
- Pulmonary embolism — Serious complication of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) during which a blood clot travels through the bloodstream and causes a blockage in the lungs; can be fatal depending on the size of the clot
- Sinusitis — Common and treatable acute or chronic inflammation of the sinuses
- Tuberculosis — Contagious, bacterial infection of the lungs that can spread to other parts of the body and is characterized by a persistent cough with blood or phlegm present; can be fatal if not treated
How to Prevent Respiratory Illnesses
Varied as they are, many of these conditions can be avoided by following a few guidelines. According to the American Lung Association, some respiratory wellness tips include:
- Quit smoking — As a major cause of lung cancer and COPD, cigarette smoking can destroy lung tissue and severely restrict the airways.
- Avoid exposure to pollutants — Air quality can have a major effect on respiratory health. Outdoor air pollution like smoke and smog and indoor pollutants like secondhand smoke, chemicals, mold, and radon can all negatively affect your breathing. Use an air filter to improve your indoor air quality and limit your time outdoors if the conditions are less than ideal.
- Exercise — Physical exercise can strengthen your heart and lungs just as it strengthens other muscles of the body. Incorporate 30 minutes of aerobic exercise like walking or running into your daily routine. Some breathing exercises can also strengthen the diaphragm, the muscle that controls your breathing.
- Schedule check-ups — Regularly seeing your primary care provider can detect respiratory illnesses and their early stages and create a treatment plan to prevent them from becoming more serious.