Cigarettes Control Your Life, Not the Other Way Around

The American Lung Association is sharing inspiring stories from individuals who have been able to end their addiction to tobacco and stop smoking through #TheDayIQuit blog series. Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but it is possible—and we firmly believe that anyone can quit with the right support. If you, or someone you know, would like to quit smoking, share with them the new, interactive Freedom From Smoking® Plus.

Have your own quit story to share? Leave a comment below and we’ll work together to showcase your success and inspire others to start their quit.

Cigarettes are awful. They’re unhealthy, they’re expensive, they smell disgusting. Doesn’t mean I didn’t smoke them. Cigarettes control your life, not the other way around.

I started smoking when I was 10 years old, to be cool I guess. Back then I would just buy them from the corner store, they didn’t have tobacco age laws—or at least they didn’t enforce them.

I smoked for over 40 years and tried quitting several times with pills, patches and hypnosis. And then I had a heart attack, and the hospital really drilled into me to stop smoking and recommended the Freedom from Smoking® program. It was the only thing that I hadn’t tried before, and it was what finally worked. Every week for eight weeks, we went through the workbook and identified our smoking triggers and behaviours, and how to work through the urges. We set a quit date and talked about how we were feeling. That’s what worked for me. The support, the other people.

I was going through some pretty rough moments in my personal life, but I stayed smoke-free. Those meetings and those people really helped. I always left those meetings feeling better. My only complaint about the Freedom From Smoking program is that it isn’t long enough. I kept getting together with people from the program after it was over, and when I hit four months smokefree—that was the longest I had ever kept from smoking. It’s been over two years now, and I’ll never go back.

Find a friend, find someone that will take your call when you’re hitting a low point. Call the Lung HelpLine! I ran into a woman from junior high school the other day and she was quitting smoking. We aren’t close, but she calls me when she’s having a rough moment. It’s working for her.

My advice: Just do it. No matter how many times it takes. No matter what is going on in your life. They are all just excuses. Take back your life.

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Five Ways You Might Be Breathing Wrong

Breathing is a natural thing: breathe in, breathe out…not much to it, right? Well, guess what: there actually is a wrong and right way to get oxygen into your system through your lungs. Below, Mark Courtney, a respiratory therapist with American Lung Association’s Lung HelpLine, gives some tips on how to get the most out of your lungs.

1. Use Your Nose

There are two ways to breathe—through your mouth and your nose, but the nostrils filter, warm and humidify air in a way that the mouth cannot.

“At times, breathing through your mouth is necessary (increased physical activity, sinus congestion) but breathing in through your nose helps, especially in a very dry or cold environment,” Courtney says.

2. And Your Belly

Humans are “belly breathers,” and just above your stomach is a major muscle in the respiration process, the diaphragm. Proper breathing starts in the nose and then moves to the stomach as your diaphragm contracts, the belly expands and your lungs fill with air. “It is the most efficient way to breathe, as it pulls down on the lungs, creating negative pressure in the chest, resulting in air flowing into your lungs.”

3. Practice Proper Breathing, Especially if You Live with a Lung Disease

A person with a chronic lung disease, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may need extra energy to breathe, so breathing through the nose and from the belly is particularly important for these individuals. Courtney says it’s common for people who have to work harder to breathe to use other muscles, such as those in the neck, shoulders and chest, which is inefficient.

“Some people need to re-learn how to belly breathe again, as this can help them breathe more efficiently, and decrease their shortness of breath,” he says.

Also, “pursed-lip breathing”, when you press your lips together and inhale through the nose with the mouth closed, is also a good technique for patients with COPD.

4. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

Regular exercise keeps your lungs functioning well, and a well-balanced diet can help you stay active. Avoid large meals and foods that cause bloating to prevent the abdomen from pushing up and limiting the diaphragm’s movement. For those with lung diseases, Courtney recommends relaxation exercises to stay calm and in control to avert hyperventilation. Also pay attention to air quality in your area and monitor daily levels as irritants, pollution and allergens can affect breathing.

Breathing out of your nose will be more of a challenge when you are sick and have nasal congestion, but staying hydrated can help, Courtney says. “Hydration helps thin secretions and helps the mouth and throat add humidity to the air we breathe.”

He also recommends asking your doctor or physician about over the counter and prescription medications that reduce nasal congestion and making sure to get your annual flu vaccine.

5. Keep it Simple

Courtney says that a lot of people tend to overthink breathing, but it’s important to remember that your body is built for it. Your respiratory systems know exactly when to tell you to change your depth of breathing, depending on your activity.

“Along with the kidneys, the lungs keep the blood’s pH in a very tight range to allow all body functions to occur,” he says. “There are receptors in our body that constantly monitor the blood’s oxygen and pH levels. It automatically sends signals to our brain to tell us how often and how deep to breathe.”

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3 Myths About the Causes of Chest Pain

Myth: A heart attack is always the reason for your chest pain
Fact: It could be something else.

“Along with your heart, there’s also muscle, there are bones and there are nerves in your chest,” Dr. Vishal Sharma notes. “Your lungs, your esophagus and your stomach are in that area as well. So typically, any of those things can actually cause chest pain.”

For instance, issues with the stomach or gastrointestinal area can often be mistaken for heart-related pain, he says. So can pain caused by inflammation of the cartilage that connects your ribs to your breast bone.

It’s also possible that several other conditions could cause chest pain, from asthma or pneumonia in your lungs to panic attacks.

“Oftentimes, it’s very difficult for even the physician to figure out if the pain is related to the heart,” Dr. Vishal Sharma.

That said, rather than trying to diagnose yourself, “it’s always appropriate to get checked out,” he says. “The symptoms might continue to occur, but at least you’ll know what you’re dealing with.”

Myth: Heart-related chest pain feels the same for everybody
Fact: Chest pain can be different for everyone.

“Specifically, in women, older patients and diabetics, their pain or their symptoms that might be related to a heart attack might be a little bit unique or atypical,” Dr. Vishal Sharma.

For example, women are more likely than men to feel their chest pain while they’re resting or sleeping, while men tend to feel it when they’re active.

And in people who have diabetes, they might not even feel any heart-related pain before they have a heart attack because nerve damage blunts the pain.

“But what we typically call chest pain that’s related to your heart is classically described as sort of a pressure,” Dr. Vishal Sharma. “They might describe it like an elephant sitting on their chest. This pain tends to come on with exertion or activity—when you place more demand on your heart—and resolves when you rest.”

Myth: Chest pain is only in your chest
Fact: Not always. You might feel the discomfort in other areas.

“There’s often usually other symptoms associated with chest pain,” Dr. Vishal Sharma. Those symptoms can include:

Shortness of breath
Feeling sweaty
Feeling generally unwell
Pain in the jaw
Aching in the left arm
Remember, heart-related pain is usually internal. “Pushing on the outside of your heart can’t necessarily make the pain you’re feeling worse,” Dr. Vishal Sharma. “And if you take a deep breath, and it hurts more, that is a little unusual for heart-related pain.”

Instead, both of those feelings suggest that your chest pain is more muscle-related, or it might be something related to your lungs rather than your heart, Dr. Vishal Sharma says.

How to figure out the cause of your chest pain
Another question that Dr. Vishal Sharma typically asks his patients to help him figure out if a chest pain could be heart-related is how long that discomfort lasts in their chest.

Pain that lasts for a few seconds is unusual for heart-related pain. But 15 to 20 minutes? That’s a reason to head to the emergency room.

Aside from how your chest pain feels, Dr. Vishal Sharma says you should also consider risk factors for heart problems.

“If you’re like a young person, who is 20, very healthy, and went to the gym and did a little bit too much with lifting weights—and now you’re having chest pain—chances are it’s probably related to soreness of your muscles,” he says.

“That’s different than if you’re in your 50s, and have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. You have a history of prior heart problems, a family history of heart problems, and smoke or have diabetes,” he adds. “Those are all risk factors for having heart problems. So, in that case, we would take things a little more seriously.”

Better safe than sorry
“If you’re not feeling well, it’s something new and it’s persisting, seek medical care,” Dr. Vishal Sharma advises.

And if you’re feeling that pressure on your chest along with symptoms that often accompany a heart attack—nausea, shortness of breath and sweating while at rest—you should head to the emergency room.

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