July 20, 2023
Breathing is something most of us take for granted. But when problems arise with our respiratory system, they can significantly impact our health and daily life.
The respiratory system is a complex network of organs, tissues, and muscles that enables you to inhale. It includes your:
• nose, sinuses, and mouth
• throat or pharynx
• windpipe or trachea
• bronchial tubes
A variety of factors, such as genetics, environmental pollutants, and illnesses, can interfere with your respiratory system’s ability to function.
Some respiratory problems are independent of your environment and actions. For example, your genes may make you more likely than other people to have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or lung cancer. Aging can also affect your respiratory system because your lung capacity shrinks as you get older.
Inhaling foreign substances is a major cause of respiratory trouble. The substances can be pollen, which can cause allergies; radon gas or cigarette smoke, which can cause lung cancer; or a variety of other things, such as dust and polluted air, e.g., wildfire smoke.
Various health conditions can also interfere with the functioning of your respiratory system. Colds, flu, COVID-19, and pneumonia top the illness list. Gastrointestinal problems, such as acid reflux, can cause a cough and other respiratory symptoms.
While you can’t do anything about your genes or your age, there are steps you can take to maintain or improve your respiratory health.
The most important thing you can do is avoid smoking or vaping. Second-hand smoke is also harmful, so try to avoid it. If you currently smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health. Quitting can be difficult, but it is possible with advice and support, both of which are plentiful.
You also should reduce your exposure to air pollution by:
• Making sure your home is well-ventilated and cleaned regularly to prevent the buildup of allergens, dust, and mold.
• Not using products that create fumes, such as strong cleaning agents.
• Making sure your gas appliances are ventilated properly.
• Not using wood-burning fireplaces or stoves. If you do, make sure they’re as efficient as possible and well-ventilated. Also, use pellets or dry hardwood, which burn cleaner and more efficiently.
• Keeping a mask handy if your work exposes you to pollutants and for when there is poor air quality.
Another way to avoid damage to your respiratory system is to avoid respiratory diseases, such as flus and COVID-19. Getting vaccinated is the best defense against these illnesses.
Eating well and exercising also can directly improve the health of your respiratory system. Aerobic activities, such as cycling, swimming, and dancing, can help improve your lung capacity and boost your oxygen levels if you do them regularly. If you already have respiratory health problems, you should consult your doctor before you begin exercising. You also shouldn’t exercise outdoors when air pollution is high.
Some foods have anti-inflammatory properties, which can be helpful if you have inflamed airways. They include leafy greens, broccoli, beans and lentils, olives, blueberries, cherries, turmeric, dark chocolate, and green tea.
Steam, whether it’s from a hot shower or a boiling pot of water, can open your airways and help loosen and clear mucus from your lungs.
Problems with your respiratory system can severely reduce your quality of life. While genetics and age can't be changed, you can avoid harmful substances, reduce your exposure to air pollution, and get vaccinated against respiratory illnesses. Taking these steps will help your lungs and other respiratory organs function properly and support your overall well-being.