Risk factors for lung diseases

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In a populated city, maintaining healthy lungs can be a challenge. One might make healthy personal choices but external factors and other people’s choices about managing their bodies may contribute to the development of certain diseases. While some can be managed with proper sanitation and use of medical masks, other diseases can be mitigated by not smoking.

“Bronchitis, Tuberculosis (TB) , Pneumonia and smoking-related disease Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are in my opinion  the most common [lung diseases]. These are of multifactorial etiology,” Dr. Nazario A. Macalintal, Jr., Doctor of Pulmonary Medicine at the Makati Medical Center, told BusinessWorld in an e-mail.

Dr. Macalintal shared the factors that can contribute to the development of these diseases such as environmental factors, attitudinal factors and unhealthy choices caused by existing systems.

Each disease affects the lungs differently and exhibits distinct differences.

The Mayo Clinic defines Bronchitis as an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the lungs. People who have bronchitis often exhibit cough up thickened mucus, which can be discolored.

“Tuberculosis, or TB, is a disease caused by a bacteria belonging to a family of mycobacteria. The TB bacteria is airborn and therefore one can get it by simply by inhalation,” Dr. Macalintal explained.

Pneumonia, on the other hand, is  defined by the Mayo Clinic  as an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus (purulent material), causing cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing.

The European Lung Foundation defines COPD as a long-term condition that causes inflammation in the lungs, damaged lung tissue and a narrowing of the airways, making breathing difficult.

Dr. Macalintal shared how environmental factors such as pollution especially from diesel exhaust fumes can harm the lungs. These can be a result of policies that allow for unhealthy practices to thrive such as choosing popularly advertised over-the-counter drugs to self-medicate. “Our system allows so many medicines to be advertised for this and that. Why not allow prescription medicines to have the same but with bold reminder ‘Available in prescription only. See your doctor’,” Dr. Macalintal said.

He added that some of these have not gone through scientific testing. In terms of people’s attitudes, Dr. Macalintal shared two scenarios. He explained that while smoking is one of the main contributors to lung disease, smokers do not often realize its cost. “They have not seen the gargantuan financial impact of getting sick of COPD and always, it is only at the end that they realize the burden,” Dr. Macalintal said.

The second scenario that Dr. Macalintal shared is the general attitude of of Filipinos to wearing face mask when sick. He explained that this “stigma” prevents locals from practicing a habit that will prevent the spread of sickness. “Local people generally don’t wear mask when sick. Cough airflow dynamics show about 8 meters per second transfer of those droplets. That is enough to infect people,” he explained.   

To maintain healthy lungs, Dr. Macalintal recommended having annual medical examinations. It is a “preventative measure,”  he said. “Do not assume that ‘no symptom, no disease’. Learn from others.”

He also advised consulting the doctor if one suspects that he might have a lung disease. He also cautioned that while self-medication might be an easy choice, knowing the root of the problem is still the best solution. “See your doctor. Get examined. Don’t call for prescription. They need to listen to your lungs first. Avoid consulting ‘Dr. Website’. It cannot talk back to you. It is a one-way street,” Dr. Macalintal said. — Sigourney V. Tulfo