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Carene's Wellness Corner
Autumn is loaded with lung challenges

Fall is in the air, but if you have asthma, allergies or other lung concerns, that is not always a good thing.

Higher ragweed pollen counts, along with other weeds, can cause allergic symptoms this time of year, and there are also the perennial allergens such as mold and dustmites that are common triggers in the fall, according to Jigme Sethi, MD, chief of Pulmonary,

Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island. 

"In particular, mold tends to grow in areas where falling leaves rot on the ground in late fall, and we can thank the recent heat wave for resulting in a particularly high ragweed pollen count this season," Dr. Sethi says.

You can minimize exposure to these allergens, though. He offers the following tips:Sneezing, allergies, and lung issues

  • Don't let leaves rot on the ground or in roof gutter
  • Wear a face mask while outside and particularly while raking leave
  • Inside the house, use an air filter that is rated to remove pollen and mold spore
  • Wash bedclothes, curtains and cushion covers frequently as these are repeatedly contaminated by the pollen you carry on clothes or dust mites
  • Keep windows closed
  • Vacuum all dust regularly
  • Wash air conditioning filters
  • If your car is parked outside, open the windows and then start the a/c and let it run for a few minutes before getting back in the car. This will blow off the pollen that may have deposited in the air intake.

If allergy symptoms are particularly bad, you should consult your primary care doctor for a once daily antihistamine that can reduce or prevent symptoms. You can also find out if you are allergic to ragweed by getting a skin test at your doctor's office.

Healthy lungs
People with allergies aren't the only ones who should think about keeping their lungs healthy. This is National Healthy Lung Month and Dr. Sethi says everyone needs to take steps to ensure the health of their lungs, which absorb oxygen needed for bodily functions.

"Lung health can be maintained by avoiding exposure to smoke, even second-hand smoke, and pollutants in the atmosphere including ozone, allergens both in the air and in food," he says. In addition, adults should fit regular vigorous aerobic exercise into their schedules and keep their weight under control since being overweight compresses the lung and reduces lung volume or capacity

"The vital lung capacity is the volume of air that one can take in or exhale with a forceful breath," he continues. "This vital capacity is reduced by being overweight or by diseases of the spine, ribs or lung tissue that stiffen the rib cage or the lung."

Other diseases affecting the airways and lung bronchi - such as asthma - can also reduce vital capacity, which affects the amount of oxygen the lung can absorb during each breath. Dr. Sethi cites still other causes:

  • Smoking
  • Having low hemoglobin (anemia)
  • Aging
  • Kick the habit
The effects of cigarette smoking on the human body are many, including:

  • Emphysema
  • Chronic obstructive lung disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Throat cancer and cancer of the oral cavity
  • Contributes to the development of pancreatic cancer
  • Accelerates prostatic enlargement
  • Contributes to atherosclerosis or stiffening of the blood vessels which, in turn, leads to strokes, heart attacks, hypertension and even aneurysms
  • Wrinkling of the skin
  • Early cataracts
  • Presbyopia
  • Hoarse voice

"It's also important to note that lung function that is lost due to smoking can never be regained," he says. "It's important for people to stop smoking as soon as possible and work on keeping their lungs healthy."

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