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Make Every Breath You Take Count

Posted by Richard E. May, Jr., MD
Pulmonologist, Holy Name Medical Partners on December 4, 2020

Richard E. May, Jr., MD, Pulmonologist, Holy Name Medical Partners

We have all become acutely aware of taking steps to avoid respiratory infections during the coronavirus pandemic, but anytime is a good time to focus on ways to take care of our lung health.

Number one, of course, is no smoking. It’s also time to put vaping of any kind on that prohibition list as well. We need to retire the notion that it is preferable to smoking as there is growing concern about the incidence of lung injury connected to e-cigarettes.

Reports of serious illness and death attached to vaping started to mount in 2019. In early 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there were more than 2,800 cases of lung injuries requiring hospitalization and 68 deaths across the country related to the use of e-cigarettes.

Research is ongoing, but it’s best to stay away from vaping entirely. Check with your doctor for alternative nicotine replacement therapies if you are trying to quit smoking.

Mask-Wearing Guards against Air Pollution

Be aware of air quality, both outside and inside your environments. Avoid outside irritants as much as possible. Improve what you can; try to avoid what you can’t. Our current mask-wearing may help in mitigating some pollutants.

Continue to wear a face covering and follow other pandemic protocols, like hand-washing and avoiding touching your face, which will also protect you from other respiratory infections.

Keep Moving!

Some of the best things you can do for your lungs include maintaining a healthy diet and exercise. Cardiovascular exercise, like walking, is not only good for your heart, but your lungs as well. A sedentary lifestyle can decrease your lung capacity and also leave you susceptible to blood clots that could travel from inside your blood vessels to your lungs. So keep moving!

A healthy diet is important in maintaining a healthy weight. The heavier you are the more stress you put on your body, including your lungs. Excess weight also increases the likelihood of sleep apnea, a breathing abnormality that can strain the heart and lead to serious health problems.

Make sure you don’t “decondition” as you spend more time in your home during the winter. You don’t need to run a mile, but you can get outside and take a socially distant walk – it will be good for your mental health as well as your lungs.

Watch for Warning Signs

See your doctor if you exhibit any warning signs of lung disease, including:

  • chronic cough
  • bloody cough
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing or whistling in the chest
  • prolonged chest pains

If you’re a smoker age 50 or older, who has smoked an average of one pack of cigarettes a day or more for the past 20 years, ask your physician about obtaining a low-dose CT scan of your chest to screen for lung cancer. Check with your health insurance carrier to see if this screening is covered by your insurance


Richard E. May, Jr., MD, is triple board-certified in internal medicine, pulmonary disease, and critical care. Dr. May is a member of the American College of Chest Physicians and practices with Pulmonary Specialists of North Jersey, which has offices in Englewood and North Bergen. Call 201-871-3636 for an appointment or schedule online at HolyNameMedicalPartners.org.