Smoker's Lung Symptoms and Treatments
Smoker’s lung is a term used to describe the overall wellbeing and health of a smoker’s lung. Smoking is associated with a variety of health problems, including stroke, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, asthma, diabetes, macular degeneration, reproductive problems in women and premature babies. According to the American Lung Association, a person has less than a one in five chance of still being alive five years after a lung cancer diagnosis. Symptoms and treatment of smoker’s lung are as follows.
10. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Most cases of smoker’s lung can be categorized under chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, which affects around forty million people worldwide. Research shows that although it is only the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, it is the only one of the top five causes of death to increase over the past ten years. COPD is made up of two different diseases called emphysema, involving the lung alveoli, and chronic bronchitis, comprising the bronchial passageway.
Emphysema occurs when the alveolar septae, or the walls of the air sacs in the lungs, are destroyed, causing the air spaces in the lungs to grow larger and decrease in quantity. The more the air spaces grow, the less efficient regular sized alveoli can properly function. Therefore, emphysema negatively affects the gas exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. It also disrupts the blood supply to the lungs, which creates a discolored appearance and eventually destroys the capillaries and the alveolar wall.
8. Chronic Bronchitis
During chronic bronchitis, the cells lining the airway of the lungs become damaged by the nicotine found in smoke. The damaged tissue causes an accumulation of inflammatory cells, which release enzymes that further destroy the cells that line the airway. This causes an increase in the number of goblet cells and mucus production, which is why people with bronchitis regularly cough. Airway obstruction is a common characteristic of bronchitis due to mucus, inflammation and tissue scarring, making it hard for the lungs to fill with air.
People with smoker’s lung are at an increased risk of developing pneumonia. Smoking causes an increase in mucus production, which impairs the ability of the cilia to clear the lungs for air to get in. When coupled with bacteria, inflammatory cells, and damaged lung tissues, the secretions in the lungs are difficult to clear, making it easier for bacteria to flourish. Tobacco smoke further damages the lungs and create an increase in inflammatory cells, which makes it harder for the lungs to fight infection.
Many symptoms of COPD do not occur until severe lung damage has occurred. Damage to lungs will continue to get worse when smoking persists. The main symptom of chronic bronchitis is a daily cough and mucus production for at least three months a year for two years in a row. Other signs may include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain or tightness, a chronic cough, blue lips or fingernails, lack of energy, fatigue, swelling in limbs, and unexplained weight loss.
Even more advanced stages of COPD can be treated with therapy to control symptoms, reduce the risk of complications and other diseases, and improve the quality of life. The best and most efficient way to treat smoker’s lung and COPD is to stop smoking. As COPD can eventually lead to a reduction in the ability to breathe, ceasing smoking is the only way to prevent further damage. Nicotine replacement products and medications are available through a medical prescription. Therapy may be able to help with relapses.
Various medications are available to help treat COPD and smoking. Bronchodilators are drugs that usually involve an inhaler. They are designed to relax the muscles surrounding the airway passages, allowing for more air to get in. Inhaled corticosteroid medications are available to reduce inflammation of airway passages to prevent shortness of breath and asthma attacks. Phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors are a more recent type of drug that is used to relax the airways while reducing inflammation. Theophylline is a very efficient and inexpensive drug used to improve breathing in people with smoker’s lung or COPD.
3. Lifestyle Changes
Lifestyle changes are a good way to prevent the habits that lead to smoking. A behavioral therapist can help with decision making when the urge to smoke strikes. Avoiding chemicals such as artificial sweeteners, genetically modified ingredients, high-fructose corn syrup, excess sugar and salt, and junk food will help reduce inflammation in the lungs and help with breathing. Minimize the amount of processed meat, dairy, and wheat to help relieve mucus. Add ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, and onions to the diet to decrease inflammation and clear mucus.
2. Avoid Toxins
Eliminating household toxins and improving the quality of air may help ease breathing. Toxins can be found in chemical laden cleansers, bleaches, detergents, and air fresheners. Replace these products with chemical-free brands that do not contain irritants. Also, aim for chemical-free body products and makeup as these can also be aggravating when inhaled. Improve indoor air quality by vacuuming often and distilling essential oils, which have soothing antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. The best essential oils to distil for a cough are lavender, lemon, peppermint, tea tree oil, oregano, and eucalyptus oil.
1. Natural Remedies
Adding antitussive herbs to the diet can help improve respiratory health. Demulcent herbs help soothe irritated lung tissue and damaged airway passages. Expectorant herbs can help loosen up mucus, and antimicrobial herbs help fight infections. Licorice root is one herb that contains almost all of these properties. It is available in tea or tablet form. Lobelia has also been shown to clear the airways and promote respiratory health. Supplementing with serrapeptase enzymes has been shown to break up scar tissue, which may help reverse smoker’s lung damage.