In today’s world, the organ which has become the most vulnerable to injury is the lungs, and for obvious reasons. They are prone to many insults such as allergens, pollutants and a whole lot of infections. And to top it all we now have new lifestyle-related diseases like sleep apnea.
There is an urgent need for proper education in society about the risk factors, signs and whom to contact in case they do get lung disease. Medical science has made deadliest of diseases like advanced lung cancer, infections and severe asthma treatable. The golden rule of the medical field, from time immemorial, has been prevention is better than cure.
Common diseases affecting lungs include asthma, COPD, tuberculosis, lung cancer, pneumonia, and sleep disorders. Some common steps can help decrease the chances of acquiring these diseases and/ or their complications thereof:
- Quit smoking, of any kind.
- Avoid second-hand smoke, especially for women and children. Ask the person to stop smoking or else move away from him/her.
- Keep a check on outdoor pollution; avoid going outdoors at high pollution times.
- Indoor air pollution due to smoking, stoves, chullahs and poor ventilation in homes is a very common cause of various lung diseases. Keep a check on these things.
- Exercise regularly and include breathing exercises.
- Eat healthily and sleep well.
- Get vaccinations to avoid infections, especially influenza and pneumococcal vaccines.
- Avoid crowded places during a flu epidemic.
What are the symptoms when you should consult a pulmonologist?
- Shortness of breath
- A persistent cough (whether dry or with phlegm) for more than 2 weeks
- Blood with a cough
- Unexplained weight loss or fever
- Chest pain
Any symptom or any combination of the above may indicate either a simple disease which is easily treatable or a serious disease which has been diagnosed early and dealt with. Delay in diagnosis can make a simple disease complicated and a life threatening serious disease.
Most people only see a pulmonary doctor on rare occasions – when they may have symptoms that may be related to a lung issue. However, it is essential to see a doctor if you suspect your lungs are not working the way they should. Your lungs affect every other system of your body, including your heart, brain and other organs. The elderly, the children and those whose immunity is compromised are at most risk for lung diseases and need to take care accordingly.
There are some myths and fears which need to be challenged:
- Inhalers are habit forming, so I will not take them.
- Treatment of tuberculosis is toxic and expensive.
- Snoring is a normal phenomenon.
- Once I have been diagnosed with lung cancer nothing can be done.
- Asthma and COPD are one and the same thing and their treatment is the same.
Poor inhaler techniques are the most important cause of treatment failure in asthma/COPD patients. This needs to be addressed and the patients need to be taught properly. There are a lot of misconceptions regarding evaluation and treatment of lung diseases. The challenge for the pulmonologist and society as a whole is to bust the above mentioned and other myths and keep the society healthy and breathing with a smile.