Five steps to take care of your lungs

To mark World Lung Day in September, a coalition of Irish charities have advice to help protect this vital organ
Five steps to take care of your lungs

Look after your lungs. ArtistGNDphotography/E+ via Getty Images”

AHEAD of World Lung Day on Sunday September 25, the Irish Lung Health Alliance, a coalition of charities working to promote healthy lungs, has urged members of the public to take five steps to ‘Love Your Lungs’.

The call comes after latest statistics from the Department of Health’s National Healthcare Quality Reporting System showed alarming figures when it comes to the top three lung diseases in Ireland:

Asthma: Ireland has one of the highest rates of asthma prevalence in the world, with about 450,000 people with doctor-diagnosed asthma, of whom approximately 240,000 are estimated to have uncontrolled asthma. Evidence suggests the prevalence of asthma within the population is rising.

COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Also known as bronchitis or emphysema, it is estimated that 380,000 people are living with COPD in Ireland, yet only 110,000 are diagnosed. Sadly, at least 1,500 people die of COPD each year.

Lung cancer: The leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in Ireland, with over 2,700 people diagnosed with the disease each year. Incidence rates of lung cancer in our most deprived areas are more than twice as high as those in our least deprived areas, reflecting the strong association with smoking.

Other lung diseases which are rarer, but more common in Ireland than in other countries due to genetic and other factors, include:

Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (or Alpha-1): A genetic condition that can cause lung, liver, and skin disease, and which often leads to COPD, is estimated to affect 250,000 people on the island of Ireland.

Cystic fibrosis: Ireland has the highest incidence of cystic fibrosis per capita in the world among its indigenous population and some of the most severe forms of the disease.

Lung fibrosis: With 400 people diagnosed with this condition each year, it can affect both smokers and non-smokers, and is known to develop in family members.

Sleep apnoea: Where the upper airways are obstructed during sleep. This is currently estimated to affect 600,000 people in Ireland with prevalence on the rise due to ageing and obesity.

Dr Marcus Butler, Consultant Respiratory Physician and member of the Irish Lung Health Alliance, said: “Two and a half years since the start of the pandemic, the importance of World Lung Day and its key theme of Love Your Lungs has perhaps never been more pertinent. We know from latest figures from the Central Statistics Office that of the 33,055 people who sadly passed away in 2021, almost a quarter of these died as a result of a lung-related illness, including the respiratory disease, Covid-19.

“Our message is simple. Please take the five steps set out by the European Lung Foundation which will give you a head start on protecting your lung health long into the future. 

"Whether it’s getting your vaccines, quitting smoking, limiting your exposure to air pollution, eating a balanced diet or being physically active - remember you are not alone. There are lots of reputable evidence-based information sources and helpful supports to assist you on your journey to better lung health.”

Top Five Steps to ‘Love Your Lungs’

1. Get the Jab. 

There is a range of vaccines available to protect against lung diseases, which protect you and others by preventing them from spreading:

The Flu Jab. This helps protect against the influenza virus which can be particularly dangerous for young children, the elderly, and those with existing health conditions.

The Pneumonia Jab. This is a severe lung infection and those under two years of age, over 65 years, or those with pre-existing lung disease are most at risk.

The Whooping Cough Jab. This is a highly contagious respiratory disease particularly harmful for young children. The vaccine is normally given in the first year of life, with a follow-up booster between 5-10 years of age.

The Covid-19 Jab. It hasn’t gone away, unfortunately. Covid-19 can still put older people and those with pre-existing conditions at risk of severe illness, so get your booster dose as these are rolled out for different groups of people. Latest information is at HSE.ie

2. Quit the Smokes. 

We know smoking is bad for us. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, over 250 of which are known to be toxic. Unfortunately, it’s the case that one in two smokers will die of a tobacco-related disease.

We also know it’s an addiction and a tough nut to crack. 

That’s why there are a range of supports and resources out there to help you and to double your chances of success. Set yourself a quit date and check in with your local smoking cessation clinic or call the HSE Quit team on Freephone 1800 201 203 and make a quit plan. Check out QUIT.ie

3. Breathe Easy. 

The air quality in our environment also impacts our lung health. It can be indoors with pollutants such as smoking, fumes from cooking, heating or cleaning materials, and allergens from pets, plants, dust or dampness. Equally, it can be outdoors from the burning of fuels from our home heating boilers, passing traffic or local industry.

But you can do something about it. You can make your house a smoking-free zone and keep your home well-ventilated, airing it for 5-10 minutes a few times a day, particularly when cooking, and after taking a shower or using cleaning agents. Why not car-share for the daily commute or school-run, or consider walking, cycling or using public transport if possible? You can check out daily pollution levels in your locality at AirQuality.ie

4. You Are What You Eat. 

Unfortunately, there is increasing evidence that diet plays a role in the development and progress of lung diseases, and being either underweight or obese can have harmful consequences for lung health.

Research suggests Vitamins A, D and E, along with zinc, can protect against the development of asthma, while for COPD, foods with antioxidants, such as blueberries, red cabbage, spinach and beetroot, can be beneficial. 

In general, a diet of fruit, vegetables, fish, low salt and reduced trans-fats and omega-6 fatty acids, will give you a big advantage over the chances of developing lung disease.

5. Shake Those Hips. 

You’ve heard it before, and it’s still true. Regular physical activity improves quality of life and fitness, and reduces the risk of chronic conditions.

Talk to your GP, nurse or physiotherapist about what is appropriate for you. Consider including stretching exercises to improve flexibility and lifting weights to improve your muscle strength.

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