Our blood requires oxygen for various processes in our body and oxygen supply is managed by the lungs. When we breathe in air, dust and debris also settle in, blocking the airways. Also, the air inhaled should be moist. For this purpose, the lining of the lungs continually produces mucus. Looking after the chest and keeping the lungs clear is extremely important to prevent infection in the lungs. If the sputum is not cleared regularly, then the lungs start to work below its capacity and we get less supply of oxygen. Very often this phenomenon is termed as restrictive lung disease which restricts lung expansion, resulting in decreased lung volume, leading to inadequate oxygenation of the blood (blood carrying less oxygen). Any infection or inflammation can block the airways, making breathing difficult, leading to a life threatening disease known as cystic fibrosis. To avoid such problems, mucus should be expelled from the lungs. Lung infections and diseases can easily spread from one person to another. Personal hygiene e.g. Washing hands, covering your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing and disposing of tissues and sputum pots in appropriate waste bins, should be maintained to prevent cross infection.
Ways to keep lungs clear and safe
Keeping the airways clear and lungs clean involve various techniques, mostly focussing on the positioning while expectorating and maintaining a healthy body to prevent blockages. Some of the techniques used over the past years are:-
- Hydration is a must – It is important to drink 10-12 glasses of water a day to help clear mucus as water helps in mobilising the mucus and expels the excess quantity out of the body. Steam therapy is also used to treat inflamed air sacs. In this technique, a blast of steam is fired through the tube into the targeted lung tissue that scalds the lungs and provides relief to patients with breathing disorders.
- Deep Breathing – To make the airways clean and lung perform to fullest, it is important to expel toxins out of the lungs. Deep breathing helps in getting more oxygen into the blood. With shallow breathing, the lungs are utilising only a small fraction of the lung capacity which is 6 litres of air, we typically inhale much, much less. Shallow breathing lets stagnant air and pollutants accumulate in the depths of the lungs and may lead to fatigue, respiratory sluggishness, and diminished tissue function. Therefore, it is necessary to take deep breaths.
- Positioning – There are techniques where different body positions are used to help the drainage of secretions from the lungs. One such technique is to sit up straight, but bending slightly forward with elbow support.
- Tipping – Do not lie down when coughing – Another positioning technique which involves lying down in a tipped position with the head lowered than the chest. Some people do not find tipping very comfortable as it makes them breathless. Also, the position increases the reflux of food back to food pipe from the stomach.
- Percussion or chest clapping – This technique is also known as chest clapping, and is used to help loosen mucus. To perform percussion, a cupped hand is used to clap the chest firmly and rhythmically. This is done with a help of second person though some people do it themselves.
- Vibrations or chest shaking – This technique comprises of several short rhythmical squeezes to the chest wall as the person breathes out. Some people find this helpful in mobilising secretions.
- Use the Huff Cough technique – The Huff Cough technique is a series of mini-coughs instead of one big cough. What happens here is that two or three mini-coughs have loosened peripheral small bronchial mucus, and progressively brought it into the large bronchial tubes and the single larger forced cough results in final expectoration.
- Take an expectorant or mucolytic – Clearing the mucus from the lungs is necessary to prevent the blockage of airways and minimise the probability of infection. Mucolytics or expectorants could be used to help keep the chest clear. This helps clearing excess thick sticky mucus from the lungs.
- Use an airway clearance device – Sometimes physiotherapists recommend the use of the devices like vibrators that vibrates and loosens the mucous to make it easier to cough. The devices most commonly used are Flutter, Acapella and Cornet. These devices should be held at the angle where maximum vibrations could be felt within the chest. The devices should be thoroughly cleaned and dried to prevent bacterial infection.
- Lung Cleansing Herbs – There are plants extracts and herbs used for treating respiratory disorders. The plants parts like oregano, orange peel, eucalyptus, peppermint, lungwort, osha root, chaparral, and lobelia have been proven incredibly beneficial. Individual herbal tinctures and extracts are also available.
Tips to avoid blockage of airways
Kill the smoking habit
Evidence shows there is a ten-fold increased risk of developing lung cancer if you smoke. You are also likely to die 10-15 years younger from lung disease. Cigarette smoking stimulates inflammation of the lungs and makes breathing difficult, leading to obstruction of the air pipes, hence causing lung diseases. Smoking also increases mucus in our lungs and provides a media for bacterial growth which is responsible for increasing the mucus.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
Researches show that taking a diet rich in fruits and vegetables over a long period of time can help prevent lung disease and blockage. It is shown that vitamins and minerals in these fruits and vegetables help lungs function better. Vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables are turned into antioxidants which help ward off inflammation of the airways.
Make sure yourself safe at workplace
According to a study done by the British Thoracic society, the work place related conditions impart lung diseases which has increased fourfold over the last ten years. The trend is particularly noticeable in the industry engaged with the work of manufacturing, electronics, jewellery and farming where a variety of agents including asbestos, silica, glues, wood dust, certain detergents are used which are high in toxins. These chemicals inflame our airways and trigger lung diseases such as asthma and tuberculosis
Be extra cautious during periods
Some women with mild asthmatic tendencies can develop worst lung diseases because one third of women hormones such as progesterone can trigger inflammation of air passages in the lungs. Therefore keep a check on the symptoms around this time and if you are worried about lung disease refer to a respiratory consultant.