By Annie Perng, MSN, CRNP, CWOCN
Prior to becoming a pulmonary nurse practitioner (NP), I worked as a bedside nurse on a lung transplant unit. Over several years, I got to know people who had struggled with tobacco dependence, severe environmental allergies, sleep-disordered breathing and lung conditions that made them more prone to serious respiratory infections. One of my primary reasons for becoming an NP was to help people make changes before they needed to be hospitalized and well before they needed a lung transplant.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it undeniably clear that keeping our lungs healthy is now more important than ever. According to HealthyPeople.gov, more than 25 million people in the United States alone have asthma. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 15 million Americans are affected by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) Whether you have had COVID-19 or any other lung conditions, here are five key ways you can maintain healthy lungs:
- Do not smoke or vape. Nicotine dependence is a disorder that often requires several attempts to treat. Those who quit smoking reap substantial benefits, including improved lung function and less shortness of breath, even months after quitting, according to the American Cancer Society. Talk to your NP or other health care provider to explore new treatment options and smoking cessation strategies. If you have smoked for many years, you may even qualify for lung cancer screening. Your health care provider can help you determine which options are right for you.
- Decrease your exposure to things that can irritate lungs. To reduce dust mites and dander, clean your bedding weekly and, if possible, opt for bare floors over carpeting. Check your home for mold that needs to be cleaned or remediated. Use a double-layered microfilter bag or a HEPA filter in your vacuum cleaner, especially if you have a furry pet. Whenever possible, minimize time spent in areas with heavy air pollution or industrial fumes. If you struggle with sneezing, runny nose, postnasal drip, coughing or itchy eyes or skin, you may benefit from seeing a health care provider.
- Increase your physical activity. I jokingly encourage my patients to forget an item so they must walk back upstairs or across the house. Take extra steps and get competitive by tracking them on a pedometer or smart phone. Doing yoga, tai chi and whatever physical activity brings you happiness can help improve your heart and lung health, mental health and sleep quality. If you do have any heart or lung conditions (including a history of COVID-19), strengthening the muscles in your legs can reduce the strain on your heart and lungs.
- Make sure you are getting restful sleep. If you don’t feel refreshed after sleep, cannot sleep through the night or get up to use the bathroom multiple times per night, consider consulting with your health care provider about a possible sleep disorder. Breathing well during sleep is also important for maintaining healthy lungs!
- Stay up to date on your vaccinations. Be evaluated or tested early if you have symptoms of an infection. Preventing an infection is certainly ideal, but should you be exposed to a sick person or develop symptoms, such as shortness of breath, coughing, mucous production, fevers, chills or muscle aches, contact your health care provider. Earlier testing allows for earlier intervention. Taking these precautions also helps you keep your loved ones and community safe.
October is Healthy Lung Month — the ideal time to take steps toward healthier lives and lungs. If you struggle with any of these recommendations or have concerning symptoms, see your NP or another health care provider. NPs can assess, diagnose, treat and manage respiratory conditions, such as tobacco dependence, COPD, asthma, allergies, sleep disorders and chest infections. Using a person-centered approach, NPs empower patients by teaching, screening and prescribing health maintenance plans to reduce complications and hospitalizations. NPs are mindful of the costs of care, including medications, treatment and testing, making them ideal clinicians for people who want accessible, high-quality care. This Healthy Lung Month, take steps to breathe better and live a healthier life!