10 Myths About Lung Disease Everyone Should Know
Welcome back to BreatheLiveFit! Last week we had a ton of new folks come to the blog for the first time and so I wanted to take a second to welcome any new subscribers to the blog. BreatheLiveFit is here for YOU. This blog was created so that the lung patient and their family members could have a better understanding of their lung condition, how to manage their everyday breathlessness and improve their wellness. If you are new to the blog, feel free to click on the blog link and read some of my past posts. I have them linked under their topic… breathe, live, and fit. (Funny how that worked out!) If you haven’t subscribed yet, be sure to do that so you don’t miss a thing. It’s free!
This week I wanted to get into talking about myths that people with lung conditions have (or maybe their family members have) about living with a lung condition. This article will hopefully open a few eyes on what it’s like to live with a lung condition and eliminate some misconceptions that you (or family members) might have. So without further ado…
10 Myths About Lung Disease that Everyone Should Know
1. “Only smokers get lung disease.”
People get this wrong all the time. Sure, there are folks that have developed a lung condition like emphysema or COPD from years of smoking, but a vast majority of people who have a lung condition or “breathing problem” have never been a smoker. There are all kinds of lung conditions that you may have heard of like asthma, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis, bronchiectasis, and LAM (as well as many more) that did not occur from smoking. People with these conditions struggle from no fault of their own to manage their breathlessness and other aspects of their condition every day. Keep in mind thought that those who did develop a lung condition from smoking still need your love and support. Smoking was once very trendy and fashionable not to mention years ago people didn’t realize how detrimental smoking could be to their lungs. We have to support their abstinence from smoking and encourage those that are still smoking to quit. No shaming necessary.
2. “There is no treatment for lung disease.”
In recent years, there has been extensive development of new medications for those that have a lung condition. Some of these medications improve the breathing of those that have a lung diagnosis, some of these medications aid in preventing flare-ups and some have been developed to help slow down the progression of the lung disease. There is NO CURE for lung disease but there are different forms of treatment. Some lung diagnosis like pulmonary fibrosis have a more limited number of medications that seem to help slow the progression of the disease and thus those patients look to more extensive treatment like a lung transplant.
3. “If you have a lung condition, you shouldn’t exercise in fear that it might cause breathlessness.”
This myth is sort of an “old school” way of thinking. Back in the old days when you were given a lung diagnosis, you were told to take it easy and not push yourself. What patients ended up doing was causing an extreme amount of deconditioning to the extent that when they tried to do anything, they became breathless. In the last 15-20 years, exercise for a person with a lung condition has become paramount. I get questioned often when starting new patients….”How long do I need to keep up an exercise routine?” and my answer is always “Forever.” When the muscles are weak and deconditioned, they are going to demand more from the lungs than when the muscles are strong. Increasing your strength and endurance by exercising often will allow you to complete your daily activities with more confidence and less breathlessness.
4. “Only the elderly can have breathing problems.”
People of all ages can and do suffer from the effects of a lung diagnosis and need treatment for the rest of their lives. Some lung conditions like cystic fibrosis and asthma are diagnosed in children and those patients live their entire lives managing a chronic lung condition. Thanks to medical advances we have been able to run tests and diagnose certain lung conditions early however, there is always work to be done in areas of diagnosis.
5. “You can’t travel when you have lung disease or are on oxygen”
Travel for people who have a lung condition can definitely present some challenges but most are easily resolved if you plan ahead. If you read my Traveling Tips blog, you will find a list of things to help those with a lung diagnosis preplan. I am firm believer that if there is a will, there is a way, so if you love to travel or really want to travel to a loved one’s wedding or special event… do it! Make sure you give yourself time to plan for all the “what ifs” and don’t worry about the things that you can not control.
6. “When you are short of breath your oxygen is low.”
Oh boy… this is a big one. This is a common myth that tends to plague people who are newly diagnosed as well as family members. To start off, yes, low oxygen can make you feel short of breath. However there are other factors that can cause breathlessness. There are several things than can contribute to making someone feeling short of breath. In trying to keep things fairly brief on this blog, I’ll just mention two. Ventilation and Oxygenation can cause you to feel breathless. Sometimes it’s our inability to remove waste gas (Carbon Dioxide) that causes us to feel breathless and you may notice that one your pulse oximeter (see pulse ox blog) that your oxygen is good. So how do you “right the ship” when your oxygen is good yet you still feel short of breath? You use breathing techniques, like pursed lip breathing, to help you feel more comfortable breathing. (See Breathing Techniques blog if you want to learn more)
7. “I feel fine so I don’t need to wear my prescribed oxygen.”
I can understand that wearing supplemental oxygen is cumbersome but it is really important that once you have it ordered that you do so as prescribed. You may “feel” like you don’t need it because maybe you don’t feel short of breath or maybe your oxygen levels seem fine, however physicians don’t just pass out supplemental oxygen like candy so if you have indicated on an exam or 6 minute walk test that you need it… wear it. Supplemental oxygen will protect vital organs in your body from becoming strained from not being supplied efficiently by your lungs. Low oxygen levels over a prolonged period of time can damage your heart, brain, and can lead to other complications like pulmonary hypertension.
8. “I feel fine so I don’t need to take my breathing medicines.”
There are all kinds of breathing medications that many patients with lung conditions get prescribed. Some are for immediate relief of shortness of breath and some are for maintenance of you lung health. I like to term the medications that keep your lungs healthy by helping you to fight off flare-ups and reduce inflammation… your “controllers.” Your “controllers” are there for your lungs even when you don’t feel short of breathe. You need these guys on a daily basis to work hard so that your lungs don’t have to. Keep taking these medications even when you feel fine and hopefully by doing so you continue to breathe comfortably and avoid getting sick.
9. “My lung disease is completely out of my control.”
It is true that many lung conditions have a mind of their own, but there is a lot to be said about how your overall wellness can help slow the progression of your condition. People with lung conditions need to eat healthy foods. They need to exercise regularly. They must see a doctor immediately after recognizing that they are ill and avoid triggers that can cause shortness of breath. They need to get good quality sleep and of course take their medications the right way at the right time of day. If you try your best to do all of these things well… the only thing out of your control is how the body responds to the lung condition.
10. “I’m over 65 so I don’t qualify for a lung transplant.”
I had to throw this last myth in my list because all too often I meet patients that have eliminated lung transplant as an option because they think they are too old. It’s true, several years ago many transplant centers wouldn’t think of performing a lung transplant on someone who was over 65, but thankfully “times they are a changing” and more and more transplant centers are doing transplants on people in their late 60’s and early 70’s. Don’t eliminate this option for yourself unless you have checked with your transplant center to see what criteria may disqualify you. Also, if you haven’t considered transplant as an option, discuss it with your physician. Many people have told me that they never brought it up because their physician didn’t recommend it as an option. Do your research and if you are interested… ask your doctor about this option.
Thanks for Reading!
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