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Dr. Oz Offers Advice for Healthy Lungs and Preventing Lung Disease

Photo: Courtesy of Jaime Cody Photography

We spoke with Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” for his tips on healthy lungs, managing common lung diseases, and protecting your lungs in the winter.

What are the best things you can do to keep your lungs healthy?

What you breathe matters, but unfortunately, that’s not always within your control. The good news is that there are things within your power that will help keep your lungs healthy.  

First, your lungs will benefit from the food you eat. Healthy eating makes your immune system strong and keeps your lungs ready to combat dangerous environmental allergens.In particular, avoid eating processed foods that are high in carbohydrates. These can cause the body to produce more carbon dioxide instead of oxygen, which affects breathing. Skipping refined carbs will also lower your risk for other conditions including heart disease and diabetes and probably make you feel great.

Several studies have shown that eating foods rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, and vitamin E, such as almonds, may provide benefits. You should be sure to get plenty of antioxidants from fruits and veggies, such as berries, apples, kale and legumes.

How does poor air quality affect lung health?

Many chronic lung diseases, such as emphysema, are a result of exposure to poor air quality.

Studies show that there is an association between air pollution and emphysema. These studies used lung imaging and respiratory evaluation tests to see how air pollution can cause shortness of breath and found that pollutants in our environment contain molecules that can damage lung tissue.

Research has also found that ozone exposure is linked with many respiratory diseases and an overall decline in healthy lung function.  

If you live somewhere with a lot of air pollution, you should take some small steps to breathe the cleanest air possible when you’re home. 

  • Keep your home smoke-free and avoid public places where people are smoking cigarettes. And, of course, don’t smoke or vape yourself.
  • Invest in an air purifier with a HEPA filter that will remove particles from the air at home.
  •  Use a humidifier but make sure you clean it regularly.
  • Have someone help you clean your home regularly. Cleaning is important, but realize that airborne dust and other particles can irritate your lungs.
  • Avoid exposure to burning wood, such as a fireplace, which can trigger your symptoms.
  • Clean air conditioners in your home regularly so they don’t become a source of pollution themselves.

What are the most common lung diseases, and what do they look like for a person suffering?

The most common lung disease is asthma, which causes narrowing of the airways. Symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. A person may also experience a feeling of tightness in the chest.

When asthma isn’t managed, it can lead to asthma attacks, which can be life-threatening.  Doctors prescribe corticosteroids, usually in the form of inhalers, that a patient can use regularly or when he or she experiences symptoms. These medicines reduce inflammation in the airways of the lungs and help people with asthma breathe more comfortably.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is another common lung disease. COPD is an umbrella term used to characterize obstructive bronchiolitis, emphysema, or a combination of both conditions. Symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath (especially during physical activity), chest tightness, and a mucus-producing cough that doesn’t go away.

What are easy things a person can incorporate to make their breathing easier during the winter months?

Winter can be especially hard for anyone with a lung condition. This is because when the air is cold it is usually also dry. Dry air can cause irritation of the airways and inflammation of the mucous membranes inside the nose. 

Here are some simple ways you can help prevent your asthma or COPD from becoming worse during the winter. Like anything else in life, things go much more smoothly when you plan in advance, so make your lung health a priority.

  • If the weather is especially cold, then you should cover your nose and mouth with a scarf before going out. This will help warm the air before it enters your lungs.
  • Consider staying inside when the weather dips below freezing.
  • Moisturize the inside of your nose with nasal saline spray or nasal saline gel, or use a neti pot.
  • If your doctor has prescribed an inhaler, carry it with you at all times.
  • Finally, make sure you get the flu vaccine. The flu virus is especially dangerous for someone with a condition such as asthma and emphysema. And if you think you have the flu, then see a doctor right away to manage symptoms and avoid any serious complications.
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