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October 28, 2009 > Protect Your Lung Health

Protect Your Lung Health

Lung Health Day Is a Good Time to Learn Tips for Breathing Easier

Breathe in. Breathe out. Inhaling and exhaling are perhaps the most basic - and seemingly natural - actions we take almost every moment of every day.

Each year, to help members of the public focus on good lung health, the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) observes Lung Health Day as part of its Respiratory Care Week celebration.

Safeguarding lung health has many facets, from protecting against bacterial and viral respiratory illnesses to making sure to minimize exposure to environmental and workplace pollutants that can damage lungs.

Protect your lungs, guard against flu

A major - and sometimes unexpected - impact on lung health comes from the seasonal influenza virus, and more recently, the appearance of the H1N1strain of the virus.

"It's H1N1 season, so it's a good idea for people to be aware of that since the most fatal complication is pneumonia and ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) which requires intubation and intensive care," says Dr. Carmencita Agcaoili, pulmonologist and ICU Director for Washington Hospital.

According to Dr. Agcaoili, some of the steps for flu prevention are simple ones, but they represent highly effective means of minimizing the spread of respiratory disease.

"Simple solutions like hand washing and covering your mouth when your have cough are important for the public to exercise more so now with the possible pandemic," she notes.

Because the flu virus is spread largely through person-to-person contact - coughing or sneezing of people with the virus - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking the following actions:
* Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after each use.
* Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
* Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
* Stay home if you get sick. CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
* Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
* Find healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety.

For more information about flu season, as well as updated recommendations from the CDC, visit or visit

Managing chronic lung disease

For those with chronic lung disease, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), maintaining lung health may be a daily battle. And in this fight a patient's best advocate can be a respiratory therapist, who is on the frontlines of the quest for better breathing.

Margaret Chaika, RCP, coordinator of Washington Hospital's Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, helps people with chronic respiratory disease breathe better every day.

Chaika says the first step to managing chronic respiratory disease is acknowledging it.

"If you are short of breath, don't sit at home and do nothing about it," she says. Talk to your physician and come to our community support group Better Breathing for Life Club. It is free and it's important to know that you are not a lone."

Chaika points out that chronic respiratory diseases are not something to be taken lightly, as they represent the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. If you have been experiencing shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or have a tough time completing tasks of daily living, these are indicators that you should talk to your doctor.

To determine your lung function, your physician might order a pulmonary function test called spirometry, which is noninvasive testing that measures airflow and volume. Testing can be done in your physician's office and will help determine a baseline for lung function.

If it is determined that your lung function has reached a certain level of impairment, oftentimes pulmonary rehabilitation will be prescribed. At Washington Hospital, Chaika works closely with patients to improve their quality of life through a variety of breathing exercises.

"I help people breathe better through breathing retraining," she says. "I teach my patients pursed lip breathing, diaphragmatic breathing and show them how to coordinate these techniques with exercise and activities of daily living."

Guard against lung damage

To prevent lung disease, Chaika says people need to be aware of potential sources of lung damage and take care to guard against them.

"We hear it all the time, but the most important thing you can do to protect lung health is: do not smoke," she emphasizes. "But overall, you need to protect your lungs from fumes, chemicals, asbestos, mold and re-infections like pneumonia to try to prevent scarring. Also, prevent infections by washing your hands! And get your vaccines."

Dr. Agcaoili agrees that quitting smoking - or not starting in the first place - is the single most effective way of preventing lung disease, especially the most difficult to diagnose and treat form of cancer.

"In the United States, the combined annual deaths from breast and colon would not equal the toll of lung cancer," she says. "This disease represents the most preventable cause of death in our country, and it's becoming a worldwide problem."

For those who want to quit smoking - even those who have tried several times - Dr. Agcaoili recommends taking a multifaceted approach, including social support, medication and behavior modification.

"There's a behavioral aspect to smoking in addition to the chemical addiction to nicotine," she says. "Nicotine dependence is like heroin addiction, and it's even worse."

There is hope. Dr. Agcaoili says there are many new medications on the market to help combat smoking addiction, and it's important to make an appointment with your physician to find out which one is right for you.

In addition to medication, seeking out social support and tools for quitting can help you quit.

Taking control of your lung health

Next Monday, Nov. 2, Washington Hospital will hold a free Stop Smoking Workshop from 12 to 3 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms A and B, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue, across the street from the main hospital.

Register online at or call (800) 963-7070.

For more information about the Better Breathing for Life Club, call (510) 494-7025. To find out more about the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at Washington Hospital, visit, click the "Services" tab, scroll to "Clinical Services," and select "Pulmonary Medicine."

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