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Are you high-risk? Lung health and lower respiratory disease

Posted March 18, 2019 by Sandy Kohut, RRT, BSAS Lead Lung Navigator


Chronic lower respiratory disease is the third leading cause of death, behind cancer and heart disease in Ohio. Chronic lower respiratory disease is a broad term that includes a variety of diseases that affect the lungs, like: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema (a type of COPD), chronic bronchitis and non-reversible asthma.

Roughly one in six Americans will suffer from some pulmonary disease in their lifetime. Most of those affected usually associate breathing problems with older age or “not as in shape” rather than a serious medical condition, until it becomes severe.

These diseases are most common in smokers, in fact, almost 80 percent of cases are due to cigarette smoking. Even if you quit early, your lungs may have experienced significant damage. Treatment and therapies have shown to improve breathing issues and even help chronic patients breathe easier again.

Most individuals don’t show symptoms of lung disease until significant damage has occurred. You may be at a higher risk of COPD if you experience symptoms, like:

  • Shortness of breath, especially during activities
  • Tightness of the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Excess mucus in the throat, especially in the morning
  • Chronic cough that can be accompanied by excess mucus in the throat
  • Low energy levels
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent upper respiratory infections like the common cold, pharyngitis and tracheobronchitis

People with COPD also have a higher risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and other serious health conditions. If you are high risk, your doctor may recommend a pulmonary rehabilitation program. These special exercises, treatments, nutrition and physical activity training, plus breathing retraining can greatly improve high-risk pulmonary individuals.

Healthy lifestyle choices, like quitting smoking, a plant-based diet, moderate physical activity and a pulmonary rehabilitation program are the safest, less-invasive ways to lower your risks (or treat) COPD and other pulmonary diseases. However, other treatment options and preventative steps do exist: 

  • Bronchodilators help open the airways by relaxing the muscles around it, making breathing easier.
  • Vaccines like the annual flu shot and the pneumococcal vaccine can help make the cold season manageable.
  • In more advanced stages of COPD, oxygen therapy - during physical activity or sleeping - can make breathing easier.
  • Surgery, in rare cases, may relieve severe breathing issues.

Treatment and therapy can help many breathe easier again. A pulmonary rehabilitation program is offered by Summa Health System to do just that – help you or a loved one breathes easier. Additionally, if you smoke and want to quit, consider attending one of our free Smoking Cessation classes.

Summa's pulmonary professionals have found that combining aerobic activity with strength-building activity, healthy diet choices and limiting exposure to tobacco or other respiratory inhibitors help patients get quicker results. The team of pulmonary rehab specialists at Summa Health can help make patients more aware of when to see a doctor. As a result, less hospitalization and fewer hospital visits occur, because patients stay healthier. For more information, call 330.375.4472 in Akron and 330.615.3934 in Barberton.

A majority of insurance programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover part or all of the cost of pulmonary rehabilitation. Check with your insurance company for specific coverage or any pre-certification requirements.


Options to Request an Appointment

If your situation is an emergency, call 911.