Breathing, such an essential part of life. In fact, without being able to breathe, you are not able to stay alive.
As everybody grows some people will be likely to experience respiratory diseases. Worst-case scenario, it might even become part of your everyday life and restrict your daily routines.
There are different respiratory diseases, which can all affect you in different ways and the treatments vary’s from illness to illness. Some respiratory illnesses are preventable, but every one of them requires treatment.
“In health people, age-related reductions in lung function seldom lead to symptoms, but they can contribute to an older person's reduced ability to do vigorous exercise”
Lungs, their function and purpose
Generally speaking, the lungs have two functions. One is to provide the body with oxygen the other is to remove carbon dioxide.
The body needs oxygen to work properly and for people to survive. Carbon dioxide, however, is a gas your body produces. This happens whenever the body is using the oxygen you have inhaled.
When you are breathing, oxygen enters and exits your lungs. When inhaling, air flows through the airways into the lungs. Your airways are made of a stretchy tissue. This is supported by bands of muscles. It is also supported by other tissues, which is wrapped around each airway. This is to make sure your airways are open.
The air you have inhaled will keep flowing into your lungs until the tiny air sacs are filled. These air sacs are located within your lungs.
Blood is circulating around these air sacs through tiny blood vessels. Oxygen crosses into the bloodstream, at the place where the blood vessels and air sacs meet. This is also where carbon dioxide crosses from the bloodstream into the lungs. After this, you will then exhale the used up air.
Why do you need to know this?
Well, this provides you with good background information to know exactly what is happening with your lungs, and how they function, as you are breathing.
“Nearly 15%, or about 1 out of 7, seniors in the U.S. suffers from a lung disorder”
Aging affects your body and changes your lungs. Bones become thinner, airway tissue may lose their ability to stay fully open. Your air sacs may lose their shape and become baggy, and so on.
All of these changes may lower the oxygen levels in your body. As a result, you will probably feel tired and experience shortness of breath.
What happens when your lungs don’t function as they use to?
Being able to breath is an essential part of living. But sometimes being able to breath comes with different restrictions and in some cases even pain. Some of these restrictions are in direct connection to growing older, others are respiratory diseases that arise as a result of different illnesses you may face.
When the lungs are no longer doing their job properly, you are most likely suffering from some lung disorder.
Down below we’ve listed some of the most common lung diseases.
Asthma - One of the most common respiratory diseases
Asthma is a respiratory condition where the airways narrow and swell. This will then lead to an extra production of mucus. It can become difficult to breathe, which can then trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
“An estimated 23 million people in the U.S. have some form of asthma, and many of these are seniors”
For some people, asthma is a minor nuisance. But for other’s, it can be a major problem that interferes with daily activities. It can also lead to life-threatening asthma attacks.
Currently, there is no cure for asthma. However the different symptoms can be controlled, typically by using an inhaler. As a disease asthma will change over time. You should always be aware of your symptoms and talk to your doctor whenever something changes.
The cause of asthma is still unclear. However, asthma is believed to be a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, in short COPD, is a chronic inflammatory lung disease.
This respiratory disease causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. COPD is typically caused by exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter. This is most often from cigarette smoke or something of the likes.
“About 85 percent of COPD cases are related to smoking, although sometimes asthma progresses to COPD”
The majority of COPD diagnosis can be prevented by not smoking. However, people living with COPD are at a higher risk of developing heart diseases, lung cancer, and a variety of other conditions.
The symptoms surrounding COPD often don’t appear until significant lung damage has occurred. Usually, it will worsen over time, especially if you keep on smoking or are exposed to smoke. Some of the other symptoms, and signs, also include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, lack of energy and so on.
Although the flu is something you have most likely experienced before, and not a chronic condition, it is definitely something you should be aware of. In fact, having the flu is equal to having a respiratory illness. Unlike other respiratory diseases, a virus causes the flu.
Usually, flu season happens between October and May. You should, however, keep in mind that the flu virus is around all year.
On average you will likely experience having the flu 2 to 3 times a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“According to the CDC, seniors are more vulnerable to the flu and pneumonia, and less able to fight them off”
Pneumonia is a lower respiratory lung infection. It causes inflammation in one or both lungs. The air sacs in your lungs will fill up with fluid or pus, causing flu-like symptoms.
Pneumonia is caused by bacteria or viruses and sometimes, although less commonly, pneumonia can also be caused by fungi or parasites.
“According to the CDC, about one million Americans are hospitalized each year due to pneumonia”
This makes it the second most frequent cause of hospitalizations in the U.S. In-fact, seniors age 65+ are at a higher risk of catching pneumonia than others.
When the germs, associated with pneumonia, enter the lungs they can overwhelm the immune system. They then invade the nearby lung tissues, which are very sensitive. Once infected, the air sacs in the lungs become inflamed. This will cause coughing, fever, chills, and breathing problems. Thus leading to a lower respiratory capacity.
However, there are different ways you can avoid getting pneumonia. These include good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently. If you smoke, you should quit now. You might also consider getting the Pneumococcal vaccine.
This vaccine will protect you against one of the most common causes of bacterial pneumonia. Another vaccine to consider is the flu shot. This can help you avoid influenza-related pneumonia and also the flu.
If you are in doubt, you should always contact your doctor.