Breathe Easy - John T. Mather Memorial Hospital

Breathe Easy - John T. Mather Memorial Hospital

Breathe Easy – Keep your lungs healthy

Ask any pulmonologist about the

things that most adversely affect

lung health, and you’ll likely get the

same answer:

“The number one risk factor

is smoking. If you smoke you’re at risk for many

different lung diseases, not to mention also harming

almost every organ in your body,” said Daniel

Baram, MD, a pulmonologist at Mather Hospital.

Lungs can be damaged by many toxins, irritants

or allergens, but nothing accounts for so

many serious lung diseases and deaths as tobacco

smoke. According to the 2010 U.S. Surgeon

General’s Report: How Tobacco Smoke Causes

Disease, tobacco use is the single greatest cause of

preventable death in the United States, resulting in

443,000 deaths each year. In addition, thousands

more people die from heart disease and lung cancer

caused by secondhand smoke.

The destructive and often fatal diseases caused

by smoking include cardiovascular diseases lead-

2 | Housecalls

ing to heart attacks and strokes, cancers of the

lung, mouth, larynx, bladder and pancreas and

chronic obstruction pulmonary disease (COPD),

including emphysema. The report states that 85

percent of all lung cancers and one-third of all

cancers are directly due to smoking.

“There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco

smoke,” the report notes. “Any exposure to tobacco

smoke – even an occasional cigarette or exposure

to secondhand smoke – is harmful.”

The Warning Signs of Lung Disease

The most common warning signs of lung

disease are shortness of breath, a persistent cough,

coughing up blood or recurring pneumonias.

Mather pulmonologist Mohamed T. Sameen,

MD advises contacting your primary care physician

fi rst if you experience any of these symptoms.

“It is sometimes diffi cult for a layman to

differentiate between a heart condition and a lung

condition,” he said. “Both can give you shortness

or breath or chest tightness. A primary care physician

can differentiate between the two conditions.”

“Do you notice a change in the level of the

shortness of breath you’re experiencing with

your usual activity? That’s the primary warning

sign,” said Mather pulmonologist Walter Szczupak,

MD. “Someone who has chronic bronchitis

from smoking may suddenly notice the cough has

changed. A change in voice could be an indication

of an involvement of the nerves to the vocal

cords.” Diffi culty swallowing, weight loss and fever

may also be warning signs of lung disease, he said.

If you smoke or have smoked, Dr. Baram

recommends asking about measuring your lung

function. Spirometry, a common lung function

test for screening for lung disease, involves blowing

in and out of a tube to measure the amount

of air that is inhaled and exhaled. Follow-up tests

may include other measures of lung function.

Causes of Lung Diseases

While smoking remains enemy number one

for lung health, occupational and environmental

exposure also contribute.

Certain occupations can place individuals at

risk for lung disease. While asbestos is no longer

used as an insulation material, some workers who

were exposed to it years ago continue to develop

mesothelioma (a cancer), asbestosis (scarring of

the lung), or a build-up of plaque on the lung

surface, Dr. Sameen said.

Workers in certain occupations may suffer

from asthma due to exposure to allergens – bakers

because of a fungus that grows on fl our, auto body

workers or painters due to allergic reactions to

latex, and farmers because of allergies to soybeans

or other crops.

Asthma is caused by infl ammation of the

airways which constricts the amount of air that

Nothing accounts for

so many serious

lung diseases and deaths

as tobacco smoke.

can pass through. When an asthma attack occurs,

the muscles surrounding the airways become tight

and the lining of the air passages swell. This reduces

the amount of air that can pass by, and can

lead to shortness of breath, wheezing or coughing,

or tightness in the chest.

Common environmental allergens that can

cause an asthma attack include pet hair or dander,

dust, mold, pollen and tobacco smoke. Cold

weather and stress are also triggers. Asthma is

a treatable disease, Dr. Baram noted, and most

people with asthma lead normal lives provided

they are careful with their exposures and take

their medications as prescribed. Often the symptoms

disappear once the allergen is removed, and

medications can help manage chronic asthma


Removing carpeting and drapes from bedrooms,

using dust covers on mattresses, and confi

ning pets to certain parts of the house can help

reduce asthma symptoms in some people with

asthma, Dr. Sameen said.

Morton Glaser, MD, Chief of the section of

Pulmonary Medicine, said he has also seen an

increase in interstitial lung disease and sarcoidosis.

Interstitial lung disease, in which the tissue surrounding

the air sacs (alveoli) become infl amed

or fi brotic (excess fi brous connective tissue),