Serving Greater Vancouver & the Fraser Valley

Healthy Lungs – Healthy Life

by Lilianne Fuller

Our lungs serve two very important functions. First and foremost, they are the means by which we breathe and similarly to the function of the liver and kidneys, lungs cleanse the blood of toxins caused by everyday living.
The lungs are made up of numerous air sacs that expand and contract as we breathe. Remarkably, the lungs contain almost 2,400 kilometers or 1,500 miles of airways and their surface area would be the size of one half of a tennis court!

When a person receives a diagnosis of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) it’s assumed they are, or were, heavy smokers. This isn’t always true and according to the British Columbia Lung Association poor indoor/outdoor air quality, chemical fumes, and air pollution are all factors that can aggravate symptoms in a person living with lung disease.
Emphysema is the early stage of COPD and many doctors will now just tell you that you have COPD. It is a progressive, chronic and eventually a terminal disease. Although COPD can be caused by various factors, smoking is primarily the cause. However, there are some people who are born with a rare genetic disorder causes emphysema. It isn’t inflammation of the airways that cause symptoms, instead, the air sacs are damaged. This makes it increasingly hard to breath. Symptoms include feeling tired, losing weight, and wheezing and shortness of breath.

Lung disease affects every aspect of life as well as being a killer. Every year 250 Canadians die from complications associated with asthma. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease with symptoms that, like emphysema include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and a tightness in the chest. It afflicts children and adults and its cause is not known. What is known are some of the triggers that will cause an asthma attack. Some include dust mites, pollens, viral infections and air pollutants. While there is no cure for asthma, there are ways to alleviate the symptoms. A great resource is the Asthma Society of Canada, or 1-866-787-4050.

According to the Canadian Lung Association some people think that shortness of breath is a normal sign of aging. But it’s not. If you or someone you know are experiencing symptoms, it’s a good idea to talk to the doctor. He or she will order a chest X-ray and a spirometry. This test measures how much air moves in and out of the lungs.

While smoking is usually the culprit in a person developing lung disease, there are other factors that must be considered. There could be something in your home that is a problem. Radon gas is a radioactive gas that is invisible, odourless and tasteless. Studies have shown it to be a cause of lung cancer and other lung diseases. The BC Lung Association have ‘Do it Yourself’ Radon gas testing kits available for purchase online.
A recent United States study on lung function and mortality claimed that improving lung capacity will improve a person’s overall health. The study further claimed that performing breathing exercises will help. Search the internet for ‘lung exercise’ and a myriad of websites appear. Physicians at St. Paul’s Hospital’s Pulmonary Clinic recommend physical exercise sometimes supplemented with oxygen rather than performing breathing exercises as a way to improve lung capacity.

The value of exercise cannot be understated and according to Dr. Jordan Guenette, Assistant Professor at the Department of Physical Therapy at UBC, exercise has been shown to improve quality of life and to enhance a patient’s ability to control their condition.

If you have COPD or another form of lung disease, you aren’t alone. Coordinated by the BC Lung Association, Better Breathers of BC are support groups for those with respiratory illness in the province. Designed for patients with chronic lung diseases like chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma, these groups aim to improve their lives through education, encouragement and fellowship. Contact the BC Lung Association at 1-800-665-LUNG (5864) or online at

Finally, to maintain healthy lungs and a healthy life, make sure you quit smoking, adopt a healthy diet, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy sex life, and if you need to be on medication, adhere to its schedule.

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