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Health Reasons

Asthma | COPD | Lung Cancer

Asthma

Asthma is a disease that makes the airways in your lungs red and swollen and breathing difficult. The lining of the tubes can swell and mucus can form. The muscles that surround the airways may also become tight causing the air to go through a narrower tube. This swelling and tightening makes the airways oversensitive to things in the air that are breathed in. When the inflamed airways become more irritated and swollen, this causes breathing trouble or an asthma flare-up. Signs of a flare-up or an asthma attack can be wheezing, shortness of breath and cough. During an asthma attack, the smooth muscles which surround the small airways of the lungs constrict in response to a particular irritant, which is termed bronchospasm. There can also be production of thick mucus which can also lead to a plugging of the airways themselves.

A trigger or irritant is something that affects an asthmatic person’s airway and causes an asthma attack or flare-up. Tobacco smoke is a major irritant for many asthmatics. It is very clear that being exposed to smoking increases and worsens the severity of asthma symptoms. Smoking and secondhand smoke also increase the likelihood that you will develop asthma. It is very important for people with asthma to stop smoking and for them to avoid secondhand smoke exposure

Smoking and asthma together are a risky business. Smokers often experience the same symptoms as people going through an asthma attack: they may cough, feel short of breath or wheeze. This happens for the same reason as well – the airways get irritated by the smoke and cause them to become inflamed. Smoking can cause asthma attacks to happen more often or make the attacks more difficult to control with medication. People who smoke may have ongoing asthma symptoms and poor control of their asthma.

We have many useful publications designed to help you understand and manage your asthma. You can call 1-800-LUNG-USA to speak to a nurse or respiratory therapist about this condition. If you wish to take the next step and quit smoking, call the Quitline at 1-866-QUIT-YES.

COPD

COPD, which stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a lung disease that causes the airways, the tubes in your lungs that air flows through, to become blocked. Because of this, it takes more effort to breathe.

Cigarette smoking is the most significant risk factor for developing COPD.

The American Lung Association estimates that 80% to 90% of people diagnosed are chronic smokers, however, never-smokers can also get COPD from secondhand smoke, pollution, work-related exposures and a genetic condition known as Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency.

COPD symptoms progress slowly and those that occur early on can often be confused with asthma or bronchitis. COPD makes it harder for people to breathe and causes air sacs to enlarge and prevent air from escaping the lungs. This can lead to a shortness of breath.

Cigarette smoking harms the lining of the lungs and the hair-like filtering system in the lungs called cilia. This damage makes the problems described above even worse. While the symptoms of a cold or acute bronchitis usually go away in a few days or weeks, COPD symptoms are chronic and can be controlled but not cured.

People with COPD may experience:

  • Constant coughing, sometimes called "smoker's cough"
  • Shortness of breath while doing everyday activities
  • Producing a lot of sputum (also called phlegm or mucus)
  • Feeling like you can't breathe or take a deep breath
  • Wheezing
  • Lung infections more than once a year
  • Fatigue

If you're 40 or older with a history of smoking and have any of these symptoms for more than a few weeks, it's time to talk to your doctor about taking a breathing test for COPD. A spirometry test may be recommended. It measures the breathing capacity of the lungs.

People diagnosed with COPD should stop smoking immediately to slow the loss of lung function. Quitting smoking can help persons with COPD to live longer, fuller lives.

The American Lung Association recommends these things when diagnosed with COPD:

  • Take your medicine as prescribed by your doctor.  These are usually inhalers that can open your airways and keep them from getting swollen.  Some may be taken with a nebulizer, a machine that changes liquid medicine into a fine mist which makes it easier to inhale deep into the lungs.
  • If your COPD is severe, oxygen therapy may be used to help with shortness of breath.  This may be needed all day and all night or only part of the time.  Be sure to understand how to safely use oxygen.
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation is a program that teaches you about COPD, how to exercise and how to manage your disease, and provides support and counseling.
  • In some rare cases, surgery may be recommended for people with very severe COPD.

The American Lung Association in Illinois has many useful publications designed to help you understand and manage your COPD at www.lungil.org.  You can also call the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNG-USA to speak to a registered nurse or registered respiratory therapist.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer develops when abnormal cells inside the lungs grow out of control and at a faster rate than normal cells. The size and shape of the cells are also abnormal. These changes can be caused by exposure to cancer causing agents. These abnormal cells form masses (tumors).

Doctors cannot always explain why one person develops lung cancer and another does not. However, we do know that a person with certain risk factors may be more likely than others to develop lung cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of developing a disease.

Cigarette smoking is the major risk factor for lung cancer and is estimated to account for approximately 90% of all lung cancers. The risk of developing lung cancer for a current smoker of one pack per day for 40 years is approximately 20 times that of someone who has never smoked. Other factors that increase the risk of developing lung cancer in smokers include the extent of smoking and exposure to other cancer-causing factors like radon or asbestos.

Lung cancer in its early stages and sometimes even in later stages may not cause any symptoms. Approximately 10% of patients won’t have any symptoms even at the time of diagnosis. The symptoms can result from the original tumor or other parts of the body if the cancer spreads. Patients with lung symptoms alone have a better prognosis than those with many symptoms which can be a result of the cancer spreading.

Early Symptoms may include:

  • Frequent bouts of pneumonia or an episode that does not clear up in a normal period of time
  • Chronic cough (sometimes coughing up blood)
  • Weight loss & loss of appetite (difficulty swallowing)
  • Fever without a known reason
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Swelling of neck or face

In individuals who quit smoking, the risk of developing lung cancer gradually falls for about 15 years before it levels off and remains about twice that of someone who never smoked.  People that smoke and quit before the age of 50 can greatly reduce their chance of dying from a disease caused by tobacco.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women.

If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, quitting smoking has been shown to improve the benefits of treatment as compared to those people who continue to smoke. Continued smoking has been shown to lessen the benefit of chemotherapy and decrease the healing in the tissue. Talk to your doctor about help with quitting smoking as any nicotine in your system can seriously reduce the benefit of your treatment.

The American Lung Association has many useful publications designed to help you understand your lung cancer or Call the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA to speak to a registered nurse or registered respiratory therapist.

Ever wonder what it would be like to spend more time with the ones you love? Well, you can. Quitting tobacco will pay off big time when you ultimately get to cherish those special moments with those closest to you.