Holy Name Medical Center Blog

Breathe Deeply, and Show Your Lungs Some Love

Posted By Richard E. May, Jr., MD
Pulmonologist, Holy Name Medical Partners on October 20, 2021
Richard E. May, Jr, MD, Pulmonologist,

October is Healthy Lung Month and, more than ever, it’s time to think about caring for these vital organs that provide our bodies with the oxygen needed to survive. The respiratory distress caused by COVID-19 has been epic and highlighted the importance of protecting our lungs from the coronavirus and other infections.

Job one is to get vaccinated, and now is the time! We have safe and effective vaccines available to prevent or mitigate COVID-19. These COVID-19 vaccines are readily available, and booster shots are rolling out.

It’s also a great time to get influenza and pneumococcal vaccines. Do not skip these routine vaccinations; they can be given on the same day or within 14 days of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and boosters. With a few exceptions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone 6 months and older get flu shots by the end of October.

The CDC also recommends pneumonia vaccines for all infants and children younger than 2, all adults 65 years or older, and for adults between 19-64 who smoke or have certain medical conditions, such as chronic lung or heart disease, leukemia, lymphoma, or alcoholism.

Take advantage of these potentially life-saving vaccines and continue following COVID-19 protocols, such as thorough hand-washing and proper mask-wearing. Stay away from those who are sick, and stay home if ill.

Here are some other tips to maintain healthy lungs:

  • No smoking or vaping. Tobacco, of course, causes lung cancer and a number of other cancers in the mouth and neck. E-cigarettes contain toxic chemicals that can compromise lung health for the smoker and those around them.

  • Avoid environmental irritants such as second-hand smoke, pollution, pet hair, and dander. Homes should be clean and well-ventilated (including ventilation over stoves). Replace indoor air filters every few months and regularly clean blankets and rugs. Be aware that fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, and fumes from harsh cleaners or craft supplies can emit lung irritants. Seek out fresh air!
  • Maintain good oral hygiene. Cavities and gum disease can spread bacteria to the lungs. Some medicines – like inhalers – can increase the risk of dental infection. The American Dental Association suggests brushing teeth twice daily, for about two minutes each time, with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing at least once a day. Denture wearers should follow daily cleaning protocols. Avoid too much sugar and drink plenty of water. See the dentist regularly.

  • Exercise regularly for a stronger heart and lungs. Exercise increases the flow of blood and oxygen and improves lung capacity. National guidelines recommend that all adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week. Aerobic activities like walking and running increase lung capacity. Muscle-strengthening exercise can improve core stability and posture, while toning breathing muscles. The American Lung Association suggests breathing exercises to strengthen the diaphragm and to breathe more deeply and effectively.

Beyond taking these important steps to maintain and improve lung health, make sure to schedule a doctor’s appointment for persistent cough or any other signs of lung distress, including:

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

Always remember to breathe! Enjoy some of the cooler days ahead with a brisk, invigorating walk.

Richard E. May, Jr., MD, is triple board-certified in internal medicine, pulmonary disease, and critical care medicine. He 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.