Your lungs play a key role in keeping every organ of your body functioning properly. They are working every second as you breathe, so it’s crucial to keep your lungs healthy.
When you breathe in, healthy lungs take in oxygen and pass it along to the bloodstream, which in turn transports oxygen to organs and cells throughout your body. As you breathe out, healthy lungs dispose of carbon dioxide.
But many people worldwide suffer from lung problems. According to the American Lung Association, more than 11 million Americans have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is defined as a group of lung conditions that make it difficult to empty air out of the lungs due to narrowed airways.
The association also reports that another 12 to 24 million people may have the condition without realizing it.
Along with COPD, some other common lung diseases are asthma, bronchitis, tuberculosis, emphysema and cystic fibrosis.
Current or former smokers and people who’ve had frequent exposure to other irritants are at a higher risk for developing a lung disease.
Other factors that put your lungs at risk include infections and exposure to allergens (including pet dander and dust mites), secondhand smoke, air pollution, workplace fumes, sawdust or other aerosolized particles.
To keep your lungs healthy, you must be aware of the signs that indicate some kind of lung problem. Addressing it early will help protect your lungs from severe damage and reduce the risk of chronic lung disease as well as lung cancer.
Here are key signs that indicate your lungs could be in trouble.
1. Ongoing Cough
Coughing helps protect the airways from inhaled irritants and helps remove phlegm (mucus) from the breathing passages.
But a chronic cough is an indication that your lungs aren’t functioning normally. In fact, one of the first signs of unhealthy lungs is usually an ongoing cough that does not get better, even after taking medicine.
Also, while coughing, you may have chest pain that extends up into your shoulder or down your arm.
If you are coughing more or develop a persistent cough for no apparent reason, see your doctor. If excess mucus seems to be the problem, keeping your body hydrated with water and fluids will help thin the mucus so your body can expel it.
2. Labored Breathing
If you experience labored breathing, even while doing your regular daily chores, it’s another clear sign that something is wrong with your lungs.
Shortness of breath or labored breathing happens when your lungs have to work harder than usual to move air in and out. It can also be due to some kind of blockage in the airway.
When experiencing shortness of breath, do not disregard it and simply put the blame on your increasing age. Consult a doctor immediately.
If it’s not a medical problem requiring treatment, you can exercise daily to build your strength and stamina. Also, practice deep breathing to ease shortness of breath.
3. Increased Mucus
Coughing usually goes hand in hand with the production of mucus or phlegm. Mucus helps keep germs, dirt, pollen and bacteria from getting stuck in the lungs. But when you start producing more mucus that is not due to a cold or other common illness, it is not a good sign.
Also, you may notice changes in the color, thickness, amount or even smell of the mucus. In fact, if the mucus goes from clear to yellow or green or if it contains blood, it is a clear sign that something is wrong with your lungs.
Blood in the mucus can be a sign of lung cancer, chronic bronchitis or emphysema. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms to find out the exact cause.
4. Persistent Wheezing
A wheezing sound is a sign that your airways are narrowing. Due to constricted airways, air doesn’t flow out as fast as it should. This results in a wheezing sound when you breathe.
Persistent wheezing can signal asthma or emphysema. It can also be a symptom of lung cancer.
No matter what, you should see your doctor to rule out the possibility of a serious lung disease or severe lung damage.
5. Swelling in the Lower Body
As odd as it may seem, swelling, pain and tenderness in your legs or feet can indicate some type of problem with your lungs.
When the lungs do not function properly, your circulatory system does not get the oxygen it needs to be healthy and keep fluids moving through your body. This in turn can cause fluid buildup, leading to swollen feet and ankles.
Also, due to poorly functioning lungs, your heart cannot pump enough blood to supply the liver and kidneys. This means these organs are not able to flush out toxins and remove fluid from your system as they should. This also results in swelling in the body.
To reduce swelling in your legs, feet and ankles, keep your feet or legs elevated. If the swelling is getting worse day by day, see your doctor.
6. Morning Headaches
If you suddenly start waking up with headaches and/or dizziness, you need to see your doctor.
A lung problem like COPD can cause you to wake up after a night’s sleep with a dull, throbbing headache. This happens because you are not breathing deeply enough while sleeping, leading to a buildup of carbon dioxide in the body.
This carbon dioxide buildup causes blood vessels in the brain to dilate, which results in a throbbing headache.
Feeling fatigued or excessively tired even after getting proper sleep is another sign that something is wrong with your body. Such symptoms can indicate a lung problem.
When your lungs aren’t working properly, you may find that you get tired more easily than you did in the past. Also, you do not seem to regain your strength, even when following a healthy lifestyle.
If your lungs aren’t delivering enough oxygen to your body, other bodily systems also start suffering and all this can take a toll on your energy level.
On top of that, having low energy starts a vicious cycle. Fatigue keeps you from exercising, and a lack of exercise affects your stamina.
8. Sleeping Issues
If you find it difficult to sleep on a bed due to troubled breathing or sleeping in a chair is more comfortable, then it has something to do with your lungs.
Lying flat on a bed can make your lungs work harder. This can affect your sleep quality. Also, coughing during the night interrupts deep sleep.
Even a single night of disturbed sleep can take a toll on your mental and physical health. So, just imagine how improper sleep night after night can affect your health.
If you wake regularly throughout the night with breathing difficulties or coughing, talk to your doctor.
Tips to keep your lungs healthy
- Quit smoking. The harmful chemicals affect the health of your lungs and put you at a high risk for lung disease or cancer.
- Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. It is also highly toxic and harmful for your lungs.
- Avoid going to highly polluted and industrialized areas. If you need to go to such places, wear a mask to prevent breathing in irritants.
- Get indoor plants to improve the air quality of your home and office.
- Minimize the use of harsh cleaning products and those with a strong fragrance.
- Exercise daily to increase your lung capacity.
- Practice deep breathing daily to prevent lung and heart problems.
- Eat healthy and make sure to include detoxifying and antioxidant-rich foods in your diet.