“Ooh, nice lungs” is my catch-cry in the operating theatre when I see beautiful, pink lungs. They’re soft and a beautiful pale pink for those of us who have never smoked or have been lucky enough to live outside a major city. Lungs rise and fall in perfect rhythm and they’re really quite a thing to behold. Made up of millions and millions of tiny little sacs called alveoli that exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. There’s so many of them that if we unraveled these little sacs, they would easily cover a tennis court.
They’re not there just to look good. Our lungs are truly vital to our health, responsible for taking up oxygen from the air and breathing out carbon dioxide. We have two lungs that sit under the rib cage and surround the heart, almost like they’re hugging it. The muscles between our ribs and the diaphragm below let the lungs expand to suck air in from the outside. They are life sustaining and very important to doing the smallest of tasks.
Lung diseases are common in Australia. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death. 1 in 9 Australians have asthma, where the airways inside the lungs spasm and obstruct air flow. Empysema affects more than half a million of us and makes those who have it seriously short on puff. Matters of the lung are a dime a dozen.
So how do you check up on your lungs? What things do you need to look out for to know that your lungs are healthy and what should send you to your doctor? I’m giving you four things below that you should keep in mind when it comes to the health of your lungs as well as the best things to do to keep your lungs healthy.
Short on puff
How well you can exert yourself is a great marker of your lung health, as well as your whole body. Being able to climb a flight or two of stairs without being too short of breath is a marker that your lungs (as well as your heart and muscles) are probably in good shape. If this is a struggle for you, or it has become difficult it could indicate a lung problem but may also indicate a heart issue.
A cough is a normal, important protective mechanism for our lungs and airways. It’s used to keep debris out of our lungs. When a cough appears, for most of us, it means we’ve got a cold or some other infection. If you develop a cough that lasts longer than a week, and you cough up some thick green or yellow phlegm or blood, you need to see your GP.
Normally, breathing is nice and quiet. You don’t even notice it. If you notice funny noises like squeaking or gurgling noises, that could mean a lung issue.
Lungs have the misfortune of being exposed to the outside world very easily, not like a heart or a liver which is tucked away inside. Keeping that in mind, what we expose our lungs to is important. Smoking is one of the worst things we can expose our lungs to, so if you do that, it’s time to see your GP or pharmacist for some quit advice.
Just like the heart, the lungs need some exercise too because it makes them better at taking up oxygen. So get out there and do something that gets your heart rate rising, your sweat on and your lungs working a little harder.
Finally, in winter time or whenever someone (or you) has a bit of infection, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, wash your hands religiously and ask your GP about getting a flu vaccine or pneumonia vaccines if you’re at risk.