It’s probably safe to say that most of us take our lungs for granted. Breathing is just something we do.
But if 2020 and the advent of Covid-19 taught us anything, it’s that being aware of your lung health is incredibly important. And that’s true not just in pandemic times. Mark Brooke, the CEO of Lung Foundation Australia, says that getting to know how your lungs function and recognising the early warning signs of lung disease can be a true life-saver because it allows you to receive treatment before your condition becomes serious.
“It’s incredibly important that Australians understand that their lungs are the most important part of their body,” Brooke says.
Lung disease is any problem with the lungs that prevents them from working properly. One in every three Australians live with lung disease, which is the second-leading cause of death in this country. But research from the Lung Foundation Australia shows that almost half of all Australians rarely or never think about their lung health.
There are more than 30 types of lung disease, ranging from asthma and influenza to occupational lung disease and lung cancer. These lung diseases fall into three main categories: airway diseases, long tissue diseases and long circulation diseases.
Airway diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma, affect the airways that carry oxygen and other gases into and out of the lungs. Lung tissue diseases, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), affect the structure of the lung tissue. Lung circulation diseases, such as pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), affect the blood vessels in the lungs.
Age, exposure to toxic fumes or cigarette smoke, and genetics are all risk factors for lung disease. But many people make the mistake of thinking they won’t have any problems if they’re not in an ‘at risk’ group. The truth, though, is that anyone can get lung disease, even if they’ve never smoked, had no occupational risk and have no family history of lung problems.
Early signs of lung disease are easy to overlook, so people often put them down to ageing or a lack of fitness. But if you experience respiratory symptoms such as breathlessness or a persistent cough, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic or during winter when nasty bugs and viruses are common, don’t ignore them. The earlier lung disease is diagnosed, the more likely it can be successfully treated.
“If you’ve got a new, persistent or changed cough, it’s really important that you don’t dismiss those early symptoms, but go talk to your doctor,” Brooke says.
Lung Foundation Australia has created a simple, free online Lung Health Checklist ahead of this winter season to help Australians check their lung health. The checklist will take you just two minutes to complete and contains information on the symptoms of lung disease as well as providing you with feedback on your own lung health risk factors based on your answers to the quick online checklist.
You can also download your checklist results and take it to your GP to discuss further if you’re concerned you have symptoms that need investigation.
Brooke says that in addition to the checklist, it’s helpful to always keep in mind the key signs of lung disease. These include:
“If people are feeling a bit uncertain, have a chat to your doctor, do the lung health checklist, [and] really think about those early symptoms,” Brooke advises. “It’s really important that Australians take their lung health as seriously as they would take their heart health, or any other condition.”
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.
The symptoms of lung disease or lung cancer tend to creep up slowly and people often put them down to ageing or a lack of fitness. Breathlessness, a persistent cough or fatigue can be signs of something serious. Take Lung Foundation Australia’s new Lung Health Checklist to get to know your lungs and learn the warning signs and symptoms. Download your results to discuss with your GP.