The lungs are two sacks of a soft, spongy like material. The trachea is a rigid tube that connects the mouth with the bronchia. The bronchia are two tubes that come off of the trachea and go into each lung. The bronchia further split into several bronchioles, and the tubes split further and further, and get smaller and smaller until they end at the alveoli. The alveoli are thin air sacs at the ends of the bronchioles. The average adult has 600 million of these air-filled sacs. The membranes of the alveoli are where the diffusion of oxygen and carbon dioxide occur with the pulmonary capillaries.
The capillaries bring carbon dioxide rich air to the alveoli, which are rich in oxygen. The gasses are exchanged across the membrane of the alveoli. These membranes are prone to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is when chemicals or other toxins release an electron that causes damage (see antioxidants). Think of the free electron as a chemical “bullet”. Antioxidants are like bullet proof vests that protect the cells.
The alveolar membranes are easily damaged by smoke and chemicals. Damage to the alveoli makes them useless for oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange, turning them into inert sacs. The lungs make use of water-soluble antioxidants like vitamin C, glutathione and N-acetyl cysteine for protection.
Here are some facts about lung disease:
- Lung disease and breathing problems are the number one cause of death for babies under one year old, accounting for about one-third of infant deaths.
- The lung is a major target of infection in people with AIDS.
- Lung disease is the number one disabler of American workers.
- Lung disease strikes people of all ages and races, but the overall lung disease death rate for black Americans is a little over 20% higher than it is for whites.
- Acute respiratory diseases account for almost two-thirds of school absenteeism attributed to acute conditions.
- Cigarette smoking is the major cause of emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
- Americans spend over 400 million days in bed each year due to acute respiratory conditions such as influenza (flu) and the common cold.
A pulmonary function test can help diagnose lung disease if you have early warning signs of lung disease such as shortness of breath or fatigue. These tests can assess the severity of functional impairment, determine your suitability for certain jobs or activities, and follow the progress of the disease and its response to treatment and cardiopulmonary rehabilitation.
One quick and easy test to see if you have adequate lung function is to light a match and hold it at arms length. See if you can blow it out without pursing your lips. If you cannot, you may need to look further into the health of your lungs.
Lung cancer is the most common fatal cancer in the U.S., and has increased in recent years more than any other cancer. The main cause of lung cancer is cigarette smoking, which is responsible for about 87% of lung cancer cases.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Two lung diseases fall under the category of COPD: bronchitis and emphysema. Both conditions are largely caused by smoking and often occur together.
Bronchitis affects 13.5 million Americans and is the sixth-ranking chronic condition in the country. Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes that connect the windpipe to the lungs. When the lining is inflamed, excess mucus is secreted and airflow to the lungs is disrupted. This creates a cough to get rid of the mucus and unclog the tubes.
Emphysema is a severe lung disease that develops gradually over a period of time. It affects about 1.9 million Americans, most of whom have been smokers for years. Portions of the lungs become so damaged they will not expand or contract with breathing. The lungs become rigid with trapped gases in the alveoli that cannot escape. Because the lungs are not efficient in exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide, the heart has to work harder and becomes damaged. The damage is irreversible, and death due to heart disease is often the result of emphysema.
Occupational lung diseases
People who are exposed to particles in the air such as coal dust and asbestos fibers are at risk for developing occupational lung diseases called pneumoconiosis, including the following:
- Occupational asthma: Dusts and chemicals at the worksite may trigger an asthma attack.
- The most effective treatment of occupational asthma is to avoid the substance triggering the attack.
- Black lung: This lung disease is a common name for coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, caused by exposure to coal dust over many years. The result is impaired lung function.
- Asbestosis: This lung disease is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, which irritate the lungs and cause thickening of the walls of the lung’s alveoli. Lung cancer may be a result of asbestosis, especially if the worker also smokes. Workers may not show signs of disease for 30 years or more after exposure to asbestos.
- Silicosis: Breathing silica dust, such as that found in rock, granite and marble industries, cause this lung disease.
- Berylliosis: A disease of the lungs caused by inhaling dust from the metal beryllium usedin nuclear reactors and missile systems.
Major acute pulmonary infections (influenza and pneumonia)
People at risk for pulmonary infections are those with weakened immune systems, such as the very young, very old, those with chronic respiratory or circulatory problems, and those with weakened immune systems from congenital deficiencies, medications and AIDS.
Obstructive sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is a breathing disorder in which the upper airway frequently collapses during sleep. This results in cycles of subconscious awakenings that, in severe cases, can occur several hundred times a night. Suffers of sleep apnea experience excessive daytime sleepiness or reduced cognitive function such as memory loss and lack of concentration. They may also experience oxygen desaturation, an increase in heart rate, and elevated blood pressure during the apnea episode. Sleep apnea has also been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality due to angina, stroke and heart attack, and accidents caused by excessive daytime sleepiness.
The National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research estimates that about 20 million people in the U.S. suffer from sleep apnea, yet less than 3% of those afflicted know the cause of their fatigue or other symptoms. There are over 1500 sleep disorders clinics in the U.S., which have “sleep labs” to diagnose this disease.
Asthma, the seventh-ranking chronic disease in the United States, is a condition where a person’s airways are often inflamed or swollen, making breathing very difficult. Affecting more than 15 million diagnosed Americans (some experts estimate an equal number are undiagnosed), asthma is triggered by substances or events which cause the airways leading to the lungs to become more inflamed or swollen than usual. This may cause a person to feel breathless, wheeze, and/or cough.
Unfortunately, asthma can kill — almost 5,000 Americans die from asthma every year. And, asthma is on the rise, especially among children. This year, asthma will cost the U.S. economy over $3.6 billion in direct health care costs with an additional $2.6 billion in indirect costs.
Asthma will often respond to treatment of the adrenal gland, hidden allergies or digestion. Fixing underlying health issues is often valuable for the asthmatic patient.
Dietary / Lifestyle Guidelines:
This is an area where you want to have adequate diagnosis and treatment. Diet and lifestyle changes are directed toward general health—in other words the same habits that are good for every other condition will apply here. These include:
1. Drink an adequate amount of water each day:(adults): Water is necessary to keep the cells hydrated and protected, to eliminate waste and ensure the health of mucus membranes.
2. Eat plenty of vegetables: Plenty means that at least half of the food eaten (by volume). Vegetables are very high in fiber, vitamin C, folic acid and minerals.
3. Avoid deep fried food, partially hydrogenated oil and hydrogenated oil: As time passes, we keep finding out more and more bad things about hydrogenated oil and fried foods. Hydrogenated oils are pro-inflammatory and can be incorporated into membranes, weakening them and making them more prone to microbial and chemical invasion.
4. Avoid refined sugar: Refined sugar increases insulin and adrenal hormone production and can cause the body to excrete essential minerals and increases the body’s need for vitamins B & C.
5. Avoid refined carbohydrates: They create all of the same health problems created by refined sugar.
6. Avoid chemical additives: Avoid processed foods and chemicals. The average American consumes 10 pounds of chemical additives every year. This has had a devastating effect on our health.
7. Eat slowly, chew your food thoroughly:Ideally, you should chew food until it is liquid.
8. Exercise regularly:Your health care practitioner will discuss exercise with you.