Some respiratory problems are easily treated if they are properly diagnosed, according to physicians, and many are preventable. The most important factors relating to respiratory health other than genetics and family history are smoking, air pollution, and obesity.
The first line of defence
Your respiratory system – which includes the nose, throat, windpipe, and lungs – brings air into your body when you breathe.
In the lungs, the oxygen from each breath is transferred to the bloodstream and sent to all of the body’s cells as life-sustaining fuel.
The lungs are different from most of the other organs in your body because their delicate tissues are directly connected to the outside environment.
Anything you breathe in can affect them, including germs, tobacco smoke, and harmful substances like dust and chemicals.
The resulting respiratory ailments can range from allergies and asthma to pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and even lung cancer.
Secondhand smoke dangers
Smoking has long been the primary cause of respiratory illness, but new studies suggest that secondhand smoke can cause the same problems as direct smoking.
Secondhand smoke can lead to a 30 per cent increase in the incidence of heart disease and a sharp rise in the risk of lung cancer and lung infections. For children, the dangers are even greater and include the development of asthma and COPD later in life. Children exposed to secondhand smoke face an increased prevalence of respiratory disease, ear, and sinus infections, oral disease, and many long-term complications such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. There is also a hypothesis that smoking during pregnancy may be associated with a high risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD].
Poor respiratory health can also lead to other problems, such as sleep apnea, a condition in which inadequate breathing – or even the stoppage of breathing – during sleep reduces oxygen delivery to the heart and brain.
Unfortunately, many people ignore respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath or a cough that does not go away. If you are experiencing these kinds of problems, it may be time to check in with your physician.
7 ways to improve your respiratory health
- Stop smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke.
- Avoid indoor and outdoor air pollution.
- Avoid exposure to people who have the flu or other viral infections.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- See your doctor for an annual physical.