Healthy lungs, do you Breathe Easy? - Guest Blog from the British Lung Foundation

To mark the beginning of Breathe Easy Week (13-19 June), Mike McKevitt, Head of Patient Services at the British Lung Foundation, has written for us about lung health and how the campaign aims to raise awareness about the many factors that undermine it.

It’s Breathe Easy Week, a time to focus on the nation’s lungs. Just think how negatively people view smoking now, because we know what damage it can do. From a ban on smoking in cars with children, to smoking in public spaces, can you imagine being able to smoke in hospitals or on the tube? We are at the point now with air pollution where we have an idea that it’s bad for us and one day we’ll look back at the pollution levels allowed in our towns and cities and be horrified at the health effects.

Further health education is needed about the many factors that undermine lung health. The main cause of COPD is smoking – the condition usually affects people over the age of 35 who are, or have been, heavy smokers. It’s not exclusive to them though.

Did you know that even those who don’t smoke but have long-term severe asthma, can get COPD? It can also be caused by long-term exposure to air pollution, fumes and dust from the environment or a place of work.

An estimated 1.2 million people are living with diagnosed COPD – considerably more than the 835,000 estimated by the Department of Health in 2011. This could mean that more undiagnosed cases are being found, or that the disease is becoming more common. Changes in record-keeping could also be a factor.

What it could also mean is regardless of how healthy a person thinks they are, they could still be vulnerable to lung disease. Air pollution, allergies, smoking or breathing in other people’s tobacco fumes. These are all reasons to worry about lung health. It’s a huge wake-up call, and a good reason to know the tell-tail signs:

People with COPD typically feel breathless when resting or active; have a tight chest, cough, wheeze or produce more mucus or phlegm than usual. Our message is simple, but really important:

If you’re feeling breathless doing everyday tasks, seek expert medical advice.

Simple tests of lung function can help to make the diagnosis. The forced expiratory volume (FEV1) - how much air you can blow out in one second is the main measure used to diagnose COPD.

There are a number of in vitro diagnostic tests, in addition to lung function tests that are sometimes used to help diagnose COPD and other lung conditions. Blood gas tests taken from the wrist or earlobe measure oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and can identify blood acidity. A full blood count may be carried out to look for signs of infection or for anaemia, as this can also cause shortness of breath.

If there is a family history of COPD or the patient is a non-smoker under the age of 35, an alpha-1 antitrypsin will likely be carried out as alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency can cause early-onset emphysema. Additionally, there are a number of tests for specific biomarkers, known as precision diagnostics, which enable targeted therapy for lung cancer by identifying certain genetic mutations.

The good news: being diagnosed with lung disease doesn’t mean the end. In fact, it could open up access to new friendships and shared experiences for patients. We have more than 230 Breathe Easy support groups throughout the UK. Members often do gentle exercise, designed to improve their breathing, whilst making new friends and learning how to live with lung disease.

We also run Singing for lung health groups. There’s increasing evidence that singing regularly is good for general health and wellbeing, especially for those with a lung condition.
We are calling on you to take part in Breathe Easy Week our annual awareness raising event focusing on lung health. It’s an opportunity to find out more about lung disease, when and where to seek expert medical advice, and how to adapt to your condition. Breathe Easy Week will take place all over the country, between 13 - 19 June.


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