When it comes to lung health, knowledge truly is power. According to Medical News Today, lung cancer alone accounts for 1,370,000 deaths worldwide each year. Other lung-related diseases, including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asbestos-related cancers like mesothelioma and asbestosis, are a different issue entirely. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. and mesothelioma, although rare, has an exceptionally poor prognosis, averaging less than a year among patients.
Although subject to factors including genetics and smoking, lung health can be largely impacted by environmental exposure to harmful toxins and air pollution. Construction, mining and firefighting professionals are especially at risk of developing lung-related diseases due to the environment they work in and the toxins they are exposed to on a daily basis.
Among the most harmful toxins are radon, lead and asbestos, all of which affect overall health and increase one’s risk of developing various types of cancer, including that of the brain, kidneys and, most notably, lungs.
Radon, a harmful, odorless gas, is present in almost all air, even at low levels. The higher concentration of radon in underground regions puts people like miners at significant risk of developing lung cancer due to the heightened amount of exposure on the job.
Commonly used in bullets, glass and paint, lead had a presence in many products throughout the 20th century and has been linked to tumors and varying diseases. Although some uses of lead were banned in in the early 1900s, it continued to be prevalent throughout the century and can lead to tumors of the kidney, brain and lung.
A third toxin tied to cancers of the lung is asbestos, which was widely used for its fire-resistance during the 1900s. The toxin, which is dangerous to people when it is disturbed, was present in the construction of homes, schools and other buildings through the mid 1970s. It’s been decades since its peak use for building, however U.S. products are still allowed to have up to 1 percent of asbestos in products. Other places the toxin can also still be found include vehicle parts, insulation, fireproof clothing and vermiculite-containing potting mixes.
Removal of and exposure to asbestos can lead to any of the three forms of mesothelioma; pleural (lungs), peritoneal (abdomen) or pericardial (heart). Following exposure to asbestos, it will take decades to show symptoms so being proactive about exposure now may be lifesaving down the line. Although mesothelioma is a rare cancer with only about 3,000 new cases per year, pleural mesothelioma is the most common type.
Another environmental factor that can affect lung health is air pollution, as outdoor air quality can lead to asthma or various lung conditions. According to Business Insider, the most polluted U.S. city year-round as of 2017 was Visalia, California, but almost half of Americans live in areas with an unhealthy amount of pollution.
In countries with the most polluted urban cities, such as China and India, it’s nearly impossible to see the skyline due to the layer of smog. As a result, many people will only go outdoors if they’re protected with masks that cover their mouths and noses.
Unfortunately, breathing smog-filled air is dangerous to health and can lead to a variety of conditions. For those who are exposed to pollution frequently, be aware of symptoms ranging from difficulty breathing to coughing and chest pain.
Healthy lungs, healthy lifestyle
Healthy lungs are important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and, although simply breathing promotes lung health, taking preventative measures to avoid toxins and pollutants is more important now than ever. Some key ways to avoid developing one of these diseases and improve overall lung health include:
- Not smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes
- Hiring a professional to test your home for toxins
- Getting regular exercise
- Researching and purchasing the right HVAC air filters
- Buying one of the many plants that may help indoor air quality
Early detection or a simple lung-screening could be lifesaving. With the help of modern day science and the strides being made in research, the high rate of lung-related deaths may one day be a thing of the past, but for now, awareness is key.
Have you or a loved one suffered from lung disease?
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