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What are some common problems with breathing?

Your breathing system is amazing. Its shape and structure maximize oxygen (O_2) intake and carbon dioxide (CO_2) release. The breathing system also keeps out most elements that don't belong. How does your breathing machine help keep you healthy? How can you help keep your breathing machine healthy? This section will help you discover ways to keep your important breathing machine healthy and working efficiently for you.

Did You Know?

In ancient China, doctors were paid for keeping their patients healthy. They weren't paid if patients got sick. In fact, if a patient died, the doctor often had to pay the patient's family. In addition, for each patient that died, a special lantern was hung outside the doctor's office.

-David Louis, 2210 Fascinating Facts.

Let's look at some of the main ways parts of your breathing machine keep you healthy. Two very important features that work nonstop are mucus and cilia. Mucus is a sticky secretion produced by cells in your breathing tubes. Little particles such as dust stick to the mucus instead of going into your lungs. Cilia are tiny hairs that line your airways. They collect tiny particles like the mucus does. But they do something else that helps get rid of the collected particles. They wave back and forth constantly to move things toward your throat. Their motion together with mucus creates a mucus escalator. Together the mucus and cilia create a moving sheet of mucus that brings particles up to your throat where you either swallow them or spit them out.

Figure 5.1 Once a particle sticks to mucus deep in your airway it is moved toward the throat. The particle rides along a moving sheet of mucus moved by the cilia, something like an escalator you might ride.


Your breathing system works remarkably well to keep foreign substances out to keep you healthy. But sometimes things do get into the breathing system and cause problems. Let's look at some illnesses that affect your breathing machine and some environmental factors that can harm your respiratory system.

Did You Know?

“There are all together billions of species of microbes that might, with the right combination of mutations, infect humans. But the chance of hitting on a workable combination is much less than a person's chance of choosing the right combination of numbers to win the California lottery. Of the billions, fewer than 500 germs have been lucky enough to have won the prize of infecting humans.”

-excerpted from Sara Stein's The Body Book.

Bacteria and viruses are so small that they can get by the mucus escalator. Bacteria are tiny organisms that can enter your body and interfere with the function of cells. Infections caused by bacteria are typically treated with antibiotics. Viruses are tiny living parasites. They are smaller organisms than bacteria are. Viruses also can cause illness but are not responsive to antibiotics. Even though antibiotics don't kill viruses, you can treat some of the symptoms they cause with medication. A major challenge to scientists and drug companies is to discover ways of fighting viral infections. What are some common illnesses caused by viruses and bacteria?

What does having a cold feel like? How is your breathing affected? How do your lungs and your nose feel? What do you do to make yourself feel better? Do you think it is a good or bad idea to exercise when you have a flu or a cold? What can you do to prevent future colds?

Flu and Colds

Flu, which is sometimes called influenza, and colds are caused by viruses. These viruses invade the cells of your airways. Then they begin reproducing and spreading like an invading army to other cells. Most cold viruses typically stay in your nose, throat, and chest areas. But a flu virus can spread throughout your body.

Colds and flu affect your airways greatly. They cause your cells to produce more mucus than you can effectively cough up or swallow. You feel congested as mucus fills your airways. The good news is you'll feel better in a few weeks unless bacteria begin to grow in the airways the viruses invaded. The bad news is you feel terrible for a week or more. The flu can affect your whole body with fever, aches, and pains. In severe cases, it can take a person as long as a month to recover from the flu.

Did You Know?

Influenza can be a very serious disease in older people and children. In 1957, the Asian flu killed 70,000 Americans. However, tens of millions caught the flu and recovered. More than half a million Americans died during the influenza epidemic of 1918.

Do you know what the word contagious means? Have you ever had a contagious illness? You probably answered yes since colds and the flu are contagious illnesses. Once they start to spread, many people in a community can become infected. Have you ever heard the phrase, “the common cold?” That means that colds are not specific. They are pretty much the same and have pretty much the same symptoms. For example, common symptoms include a stuffed up or runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, and sometimes a sore throat. So cold symptoms are very common. But flu viruses are very distinct. They can have different types of symptoms. Some flu viruses cause muscle aches and pains. Some cause respiratory problems. Some cause digestive problems such as vomiting or diarrhea. Some can cause fevers and headaches. And some cause all of these symptoms. Flu can spread from region to region, which is called an epidemic. Or a particular strain of flu can spread worldwide, which is called a pandemic. You may have heard of the Asian Flu or the China Flu. Both of these types of flu were named because of where they began or were first discovered. Flu epidemics last four to six weeks and occur usually in winter.

Did You Know?

What are researchers doing to combat the flu? They are trying to find better ways to treat and prevent colds and flu.

  • Biochemists are working on chemicals that cause a person's immune system to make a protein called interferon, which slows the growth and spread of viruses.
  • Pharmaceutical chemists are making nose drop and spray vaccines that work faster than shots since they can be sprayed directly into your airways and nose.

Figure 5.2 You can get a virus from sharing towels, telephones, and other items used by a person with a viral infection. Many virus particles can live a short time outside of a living human.

How do you think flu epidemics can spread around the world in only a few weeks?

You've probably been told that you should cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. There's a good reason for that advice. When you cough or sneeze, you send millions of particles from your mouth and nose into the air. If those particles are viruses or bacteria that have infected you, then someone else may breathe what you just sneezed out. But there are other ways you can get flu and cold viruses, as well as bacteria. Viruses and bacteria can be spread on towels, telephones, tooth paste tubes, eating utensils, and dishes that were used by someone who is sick. Different viruses live for different amounts of time outside of a living human. Unfortunately you can't kill a virus with medicine. But you can treat cold and flu symptoms to make you feel more comfortable until the virus dies or becomes inactive.

You can lower your chances of catching cold or flu viruses in several ways. Here are a few of the ways you can help your body fight off the viruses and bacteria that are all around you.

  1. Avoid physical contact with sick people or their belongings.
  2. Wash your hands often.
  3. Drink a lot of water and other healthy fluids, such as fruit juices. Drinking liquids helps because liquids are needed to keep your mucus wet and mobile. Mucus traps and removes viruses the same way it does particles in air pollution.
  4. Make sure you get enough sleep to stay rested.
  5. Avoid excessive stress and pressures.
  6. Don't smoke. Smoking damages the airways. It makes the mucus lining thinner and it paralyzes the cilia that move the mucus toward the mouth. So smoking makes it easier for viruses and bacteria to get into the lungs.

Did You Know?

It may seem like very simple advice to wash your hands. But the simple act of washing hands has decreased human mortality and increased human life span. At the time of the American Revolution, doctors and even surgeons did not wash their hands before or between the treatment of patients. The simple practice of washing hands with antiseptic solutions did more to reduce the death rate in hospitals than did the discovery of antibiotics.

Flu Vaccines

A flu vaccine is either a noninfectious form of the virus grown in eggs or a vaccine created in a test tube by genetic engineering. A flu shot may produce some mild symptoms that you would experience if you actually caught the flu. But flu shots don't cause flu. Nevertheless it makes the person's body produce antibodies that can attack the same virus if one comes along. Vaccines can usually protect against only two or three viruses. Unfortunately, viruses change rapidly as they spread through communities of people. Even so, doctors recommend that the elderly and individuals with chronic illness get flu shots. By following the origins and the spread of flu viruses, scientists try to produce vaccines each year that will be effective against the most common flu viruses. Scientists at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, track flu outbreaks and predict which strains will be the biggest problem so the right vaccines can be produced. Unfortunately, so far there is no vaccine for the common cold.

Scientists have recently exhumed (dug up) bodies of flu victims that were buried in frozen soil in Alaska in 1918. From tissues of these bodies they have isolated the virus that caused the disease. They can now make and store a vaccine in case such a killer virus reappears.

Pneumonia and Bronchitis

Sometimes pneumonia or bronchitis can develop from a cold or flu virus. Colds and flu can challenge your breathing system so much that your cells can't effectively fight off infections.

Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. Pneumonia occurs when the small air tubes and air sacs in your lungs get infected with bacteria. As the bacteria infect the cells, fluids are produced. The fluids from the infection begin to leak from the infected cells into the air sacs and airways. This fluid keeps enough oxygen from getting into the air sacs and into your blood to make you short of breath. As more fluid fills the air sacs and airways, it becomes even harder for you to breathe. The reaction of your body may be a high fever and a persistent cough. Your body causes you to cough to get rid of the fluids and the bacteria. Anybody who is short of breath resulting from the flu needs to see a doctor. Pneumonia usually requires medical treatment for the patient to get better. People have died from pneumonia because the fluids continue to fill the air sacs so the lungs eventually get no oxygen. This process is similar to drowning.

Bronchitis is an infection of the upper airways and smaller air tubes. A persistent cough and mild wheezing are two symptoms of bronchitis. The air sacs and airways are not infected. So gas exchange is fairly normal and patients with bronchitis are not usually short of breath. Bronchitis often needs medical treatment for the patient to get better. Some smokers have chronic bronchitis. The word chronic means a constant condition that never goes away. So many smokers have chronic bronchitis that never goes away. The smoke irritates the lining of small airways and stops the mucus escalator. Because the airways accumulate mucus and debris the smoker has a hacking cough. The more debris and mucus that collects the worse the smoker's cough gets. Another problem caused by smoking results from the destruction of the cilia and mucus cells. With fewer cilia and mucus cells it's much easier for smokers to contract pneumonia and bronchitis than it is for nonsmokers.

Wheezing and Asthma

Many people are asthmatic. Anyone who is asthmatic has some difficulty breathing. Asthma is a condition in which the small airways leading to the air sacs get narrow. Air moving through the smaller tubes can make a wheezy sound. Mucus glands in asthmatics may make more mucus. More mucus causes people to cough and increases their difficulty in breathing. About three-quarters of asthma victims are allergic to dust and/or bacteria. People with asthma need to drink lots of water. Drinking a lot of water helps to thin the mucus. Some asthmatics need some medication to open their airways.

Tuberculosis, an Old Threat That's Returned

Have you ever heard of tuberculosis or TB? You don't hear much about TB in the United States anymore. But TB is still one of the ten leading causes of death in the world. TB may still be a big problem in the United States for several reasons. People coming into the US from other countries can bring TB with them without showing any symptoms of the disease. On top of that, new TB germs have developed that do not respond to modern medicine. All these factors make TB a continuing threat to world health.

Did You Know?

About 3 million people die of TB each year. It is the major infectious disease in the world. Almost 2 billion people carry TB bacteria. But in most people, the bacteria are inactive.

TB is a bacterial disease. You can breathe the bacteria into your lungs if you are around someone with TB who sneezes, coughs, or speaks. The scary thing about TB is that it is a silent disease. In other words, you can be infected with TB without showing any symptoms of the disease for many years. You can get TB from people who don't know they have it, and you can have TB and not know it. Also, you can become infected with TB and immediately show symptoms. Those are the reasons people get tested for TB.

Did You Know?

The word bacteria is plural. The word bacterium is singular. So you can have millions of bacteria in your environment. But you might see only one bacterium under your microscope.

You cannot spread TB unless the bacteria are active in your body. When the bacteria are active, the tuberculosis bacteria destroy healthy lung cells and groups of cells called tissue. The body replaces the destroyed tissue with scar tissue. Scar tissue is thick and not very elastic. It can't expand or contract as air flows in and out. Since scar tissue is thick, it prevents gases from diffusing to and from the blood as easily as they can in a healthy air sac.

Did You Know?

Have you ever had a TB test done as part of your regular checkup? You've probably been tested in one of two ways. One test uses a four-pronged skin prick and is called the TB tine test. Another test involves a simple injection just under the skin. Both methods detect if you have ever been infected with TB bacteria.

Figure 5.3 Active tuberculosis bacteria like those shown in this picture destroy the air sacs of a person's lungs.

Okay, you learned that TB can't be spread unless the bacteria are active. Then what is the significance of TB being a silent disease? If you can carry the disease without becoming sick then the bacteria in you are not active.

Environmental Causes of Breathing Problems

Air pollution

Air pollution is a name for the substances put into the air that contaminate our atmosphere. Ash, smoke, and exhaust from automobiles are types of air pollution. These kinds of pollutants make your breathing system work harder than usual to keep you healthy.

Air pollutants can be divided into two forms. Particulates are small particles of solids such as particles of dirt, ash, and soot. These particulates float around in the air. The second form of pollution occurs when these particulates get trapped in the air close to the ground. Normally heat from the ground warms the lower layers of air near the ground. Then the warmer layers of air expand, become less dense, and begin to rise. The rising air can carry away pollution. But if the ground is cold or cool, the air stays dense and doesn't rise. This situation is called a temperature inversion. In bad cases, thick smog can result. Many chemicals remain suspended in the air like a mist or a fog. This mixture is called an aerosol.

When you inhale an aerosol, big particles such as dust and soot swirl around in the nasal passages. They land on the wet mucus in the nasal passages and are trapped. Smaller particles can get to the airways and land on the mucus there. And some very small particles can get into the air sacs. Some small particles may never land at all, but are exhaled with the next breath.

Air pollution, which includes cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoking, can cause lung cancer. Lung cancer causes cells in the lung tissue to behave abnormally to reproduce without limit. Growths of abnormal cells called tumors can clog airways. Cancerous cells may overproduce mucus or slow, even stop, its movement up the airways. When the mucus becomes trapped in the bronchial tubes, a cough develops.

Teens and adults smoke for many reasons. Often people make excuses for what they do. How many of these have you heard?

  • Adults smoke, so why shouldn't I?
  • One cigarette never killed anybody.
  • Life's tough. I smoke to cope with the pressure.
  • I just want to be part of the group.
  • Smoking is cool.
  • I smoke to rebel.
  • I smoke so I won't overeat and get fat.

Write a good argument against each of these statements.

Figure 5.4 Many conditions such as asthma and bronchitis cause the airways to narrow. The narrower airways then make it more difficult to breathe. This cross-section of a bronchiole shows an airway (light area, center) surrounded by mucus.

Take Action! Write a letter and have your teacher mail it to an elected representative stating your position on some aspect of air pollution. Here are some examples to get you started thinking-smoking, factory emissions, or car emissions.

Cancer is not the only possible harmful effect of air pollution, though. Even without causing cancer pollutants can destroy or rupture the air, sacs, which the body replaces with scar tissue. Destroyed or damaged air sacs or alveoli can not be replaced or repaired. Besides that, the scar tissue often becomes the place where emphysema or cancer begins to develop. It's true that medical treatments can slow or stop the spread of cancer, but medical treatments cannot bring back destroyed or damaged alveoli.

What Do You Think?

Should there be a pollution tax for industries that cause air pollution? How about for cars, lawn mowers, and leaf blowers? How should the money from a pollution tax be spent to improve our atmosphere and to improve the health of the people affected by air pollution?

Suppose you were given the job of monitoring the air pollution levels in your city. What are some of the things you would want to measure?


Cigarette smoke is an air pollutant, but it is much more concentrated since it is inhaled directly into the lungs. Like other pollutants in the air, smoke from smoking can cause cancer and damage the alveoli in the lungs. A smoker's lung will look charred or black and bumpy because of the fusion of tiny alveoli into larger air sacs.

So if smoking causes cancer and destroys alveoli, then why do people smoke? Why do some young people start smoking? Why does the Surgeon General keep saying that cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health? Why do you still see ads for smoking in magazines, newspapers, and on billboards? Let's see if we can find out. Here are some interesting statistics to start investigating these questions.

What Do You Think?

When products are found to be “tainted” or to cause harm, they are usually removed from the market by the manufacturer or by law. Why hasn't this happened with cigarettes?

  • The Surgeon General reports that in the United States 390,000 deaths per year are due to smoking.
  • About 26% of all adults in this country smoke. In many other countries the percentage is higher.
  • In 1985, the total cost of health care associated with smoking was greater than 65 billion dollars. Today it's even more.
  • Most smokers start as teenagers. The current starting age averages 16 years. By 17 to 19 years, one-fifth of all teenagers smoke regularly.
  • Breathing someone else's exhaled tobacco smoke can be damaging to your lungs.
  • Autopsy studies of teenagers show that early, small airway narrowing occurs within the first few years of active smoking.
  • Teenage smokers have more colds and coughing symptoms. They also have lower lung vital capacities than do nonsmokers.
  • Educating teenagers about smoking, alone, does not prevent them from smoking.
  • Less educated people tend to smoke more than high school and college graduates do.

Tobacco contains nicotine and nicotine is a drug. People keep smoking for the nicotine. Nicotine is a stimulant. A stimulant is a substance that makes some people feel more energetic or excited. It is the nicotine that is habit forming, or addictive. The big problem is that nicotine irritates the lining of blood vessels, which can lead to the formation of plaque. If plaque develops in the coronary arteries, the person can begin to experience symptoms of heart disease. Smoke also irritates your eyes and throat. It stains your teeth, and makes your breath and clothes stink. It makes many people turn away or say nasty things. So why would anyone want to smoke?

Figure 5.5 The picture on the left shows the lung of a non-smoker. The picture on the right shows a smoker's lung. The arrow points to cancer cells in the smoker's lung.

Motivating through Ads Collect three or four advertisements about smoking. Study the ads to determine what they tell you. Explain the message of the ad. Who smokes in these ads? What is the life-style these ads are trying to sell to you? To whom do you think the ads are marketing?

Use the same kinds of gimmicks these ads use to develop an anti-smoking ad. If you were to create an ad campaign against smoking, how could you make it “glamorous” or attractive?

Some smokers don't know the risks of smoking. Some feel that bad things happen to other people and not to them. But bad things can happen to you, too. For smokers the biggest risk is permanently damaging the heart and lungs. Smoking can cause death, but smoking causes many problems short of death that can ruin your life. You have probably seen people who get short of breath after only a little exertion. But have you seen people who have to carry around oxygen bottles to help them breathe? Have you seen people who breathe through holes in the front of their necks because they have had throat surgery? In fact, it's because smoking causes so many health problems that the Surgeon General wants everyone to quit. Now, think about why the government cares about you and wants people to quit smoking. Well, one reason is that smokers are sick more often than nonsmokers are. When they're sick, they cost everyone a lot of money in paying for health care. Even more importantly, they cause great pain for themselves and their families when they are sick or dying.

Who is the Surgeon General? What is the Surgeon General's job in the government?

So what can you make of all you read and hear about smoking? Here are some things to think about:

  1. If you smoke you damage your heart, circulation, and lungs. That makes it easier for you to get sick.
  2. If you continue to smoke for many years you will probably die of a disease caused by smoking. Some common diseases are lung and throat cancer, heart disease, stroke, and emphysema. The earlier you start smoking, the more likely it is that you will die earlier in your life of one of these diseases.
  3. Some people want you to smoke and some want you to quit. Companies making money from cigarettes, advertising, or the sale of tobacco want you to smoke. When anyone buys a pack of cigarettes, cigars, or chewing tobacco, most of their money goes to the tobacco companies.

What Do You Think?

Do you mind if people around you smoke? Explain why you feel the way you do. How would you ask someone not to smoke near you?

Anyone who is interested in your health does not want you to smoke because you will be sick, die early, and cost the health care system lots of money.

The choice is yours. Gather all the true facts. Analyze those facts. Then choose wisely. But be sure to make your own choice! Be sure to think carefully before you choose.

Activity 5-1 : Smoke in Your Lungs


What does smoking do to your lungs? In this activity you build a smoking machine, then explore how cigarettes put nicotine, tar, and oils in a smoker's lungs.


  • 1-liter Clear, plastic detergent or soda bottle
  • Cotton balls, enough to fill the bottle
  • Clay or play dough
  • Rubber tubing or straw (to fit over cigarette)
  • Activity Report


Step 1 Fill a bottle with cotton balls.

Step 2 Surround a short piece of rubber tubing with clay or play dough and place it in the neck of the bottle.

Step 3 Place a cigarette into the tube (outside the classroom).

Step 4 Have your teacher light the cigarette (outside the classroom).

Step 5 “Inhale” and “exhale” the bottle slowly by squeezing and relaxing your grip.

Step 6 Observe and record what happens.

Step 7 Clean up as directed by your teacher.

Figure 5.6 This drawing illustrates a smoking machine.


Emphysema is a disease of smokers that destroys the delicate membranes of the air sacs. As a result, individual alveoli combine into larger and larger air sacs. Remember Activity 2-2 in which you calculated surface areas of golf balls, tennis balls, and volleyballs? Think back to the comparison between the gas exchange capacity of the golf balls with the volleyball. What do you think the fusion of small alveoli into larger and larger air sacs does to the gas exchange capacity of the lungs? Another problem is the development of scar tissue. As the alveoli are damaged, scar tissue forms and the lungs become less elastic. That means the lungs cannot stretch as much when the diaphragm contracts. So the vital capacity of the lungs goes down even more. The reduced diffusion capacity and reduced vital capacity makes it very hard for an emphysema patient to breathe.

Activity 5-2: Emphysema


In emphysema, the surface area of all the alveoli is reduced. This reduction of surface area makes it difficult for the patient to breathe. In this activity you model the reduction of surface area of alveoli in emphysema.


  • Microscope
  • Slides of normal lung tissue
  • Slides of lung tissue from a person with emphysema
  • Your teacher may substitute photographs of each. (But the magnification of each must be the same.)
  • Calculator
  • Tennis balls
  • Golf balls
  • 4-liter freezer bags
  • Balloon
  • Lung models from Activity 1-1
  • Activity Report


Step 1 Observe the differences between normal lung tissue slides and emphysema slides. Answer questions 1 through 3 on the Activity Report.

Step 2 Refer to Activity 1-1: How Do You Breathe?

a. Pair up with another team. One team should put another balloon inside the existing balloon.

b. Each team should repeat step 5 from Activity 1-1: How do You Breathe?

  • Step 5. Use the tied off neck of the balloon as a handle and pull down. Hold for a second. Let go.

c. Compare the expansion of the single balloon with the expansion of the double (two balloons).

Step 3 Refer to Activity 2-2: The More the Airier procedure 3.

  • Calculate the surface areas of the golf ball, tennis ball, and volleyball. If you don't remember how to calculate the surface area check Steps 1 to 3 of Activity 2-2: The More the Airier.

a. Fill the bag with golf balls (air sacs).

b. Remove half of the golf balls and replace them with tennis balls.

c. Compare the surface area of all the golf balls with the surface area created by half golf balls and half tennis balls together.

Step 4 Answer the questions on the Activity Report.


Now think back to the beginning of this unit when we described the airways to the lungs. What happens when someone chokes? Suppose you're watching someone eat lunch. Suddenly the person grabs at his throat and can't talk or breathe. The choker looks scared and starts to pass out, turning a pale blue. First think. Then act. If there is anyone else around send that person to get medical help. The possibility is that food has probably stuck over the windpipe around the epiglottis. The person can't talk, because the food is blocking the vocal cords. The person can't breathe because the airway is blocked. You know you must act because the person's lungs are losing oxygen to the blood. No new oxygen is getting in, but the blood is taking up what oxygen is there from the air sacs. The amount of carbon dioxide in the air sacs is rising. When the person tries to breathe, the effort causes the food to be sucked down even harder. This blocks the choker's airway even more.

The first thing to do in a choking situation is to get emergency medical help. Someone trained in the Heimlich maneuver (also called the Obstructed Airway maneuver) can perform the procedure to dislodge the object. The Heimlich maneuver is a first aid technique that helps someone who is choking. This technique is different for children than it is for adults, so it is important to get the correct training that teaches the procedure. A healthcare professional such as the school nurse, a doctor, or an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) can demonstrate how to do the Heimlich maneuver safely.

Advertising for Good Health Create an ad campaign for your school promoting good health and healthy lungs. Determine what people should and should not do in order to promote good health and healthy lungs. Design a flyer or brochure that provides the necessary information to distribute to your friends and families. Include diagrams and art work. BE CREATIVE! It is sometimes difficult to tell people things they do not want to know so be persuasive. The brochure should be informative, convincing, appealing, and neat.

Keeping Your lungs Healthy

It's easy to take for granted everything that your lungs do for you. Think about how hard you have to work to breathe when you're congested with a cold or the flu. Life feels pretty uncomfortable when breathing is hard to do. Many factors can affect your lungs that you can't control, such as getting viral infections. But there are a lot of other factors you can control that help keep your lungs healthy. The following are some things you can control that will help keep your lungs healthy.

Good nutrition: A good diet can provide the energy, vitamins, and minerals your body needs. Remember, for example, that the hemoglobin in your red blood cells delivers oxygen from your lungs to your body's cells. What Is hemoglobin? Hemoglobin is protein that needs iron to work. Therefore, you need to get iron in your diet. Foods rich in iron include leafy vegetables, dried fruits, and red meats.

Sleep: Have you ever noticed that when you haven't gotten enough sleep you get sick more easily? Your immune system directly benefits from lots of sleep. Sometimes bacteria or viruses sneak by your cilia and mucus escalator. If you are well rested, your immune system will be better able to fight off illness.

Water/fluids: Remember that your air passages moisten, warm, and clean incoming air. They do this through their natural structure and through the production of mucus. Keeping these tissue cells moist helps them to function more efficiently. Bacteria and viruses can get into your system more easily if your air passages are dry. When you drink a lot of fluids, you also improve your circulation. When you improve your circulation, you help flush out (get rid of) bacteria and viruses.

Air quality: Air pollution can lead to many lung problems, from the common cold to cancer. What can you do? Live and work in places with good air quality. But since that's not always possible, you must become more aware about the things you and your community do that affect the air around you. For example, smoking pollutes the air around you, as does driving a car, using small gasoline motors such as lawn mowers and outboard motors, having a fire in the fireplace, and using spray cans. (Cleaners, paints, and deodorants often come in spray cans.)

Exercise: Getting regular exercise keeps your body strong. Exercise improves the strength and capacity of your heart and lungs. The stronger all your body systems are, the better they can fight disease.

Alcohol/Drugs: Alcohol and drugs change how your cells function. They frequently cause dehydration, which makes you feel thirsty. When your airways are dry, more bacteria and viruses can get by the natural barriers. More importantly, drugs and alcohol affect your judgment. Poor judgment can lead to poor decisions that negatively affect your health. For example, activities such as sniffing paint or glue fumes destroys tissue in your airways and reduces the protective mucus lining- not to mention destroying cells in your brain and liver. Seeing someone on a mechanical lung or artificial respirator because of sniffing glue helps us see the results that poor decisions can have on your respiratory system.

Review Questions

  1. Why is mucus important to your health?
  2. How do viruses and bacteria spread? What are the best ways to protect yourself from getting them?
  3. What is the difference between pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema?
  4. Describe at least four reasons why smoking is hazardous to your health.
  5. Describe three ways you can help your lungs stay healthy.

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Date Created:

Feb 23, 2012

Last Modified:

Jul 16, 2014
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