Be Vigilant About Respiratory Illness
You’ve heard how COVID-19, flu and other respiratory illnesses that affect the lungs can make it difficult to breathe. There are steps you can take today to prevent these illnesses and boost your respiratory health in case you do get sick. Taking good care of your lungs can improve your quality of life and protect against respiratory illnesses that can take a toll on your lungs.
Recognize Serious Symptoms
It’s important to know that anyone can have mild to severe symptoms with either COVID-19 or flu. “Older adults and people who have underlying health conditions are definitely at higher risk for getting serious complications from respiratory illness. However, everyone should be aware that severe symptoms are possible at any age,” said Raziuddin Ahmed, M.D., board-certified pulmonologist with Houston Methodist Pulmonary & Sleep Medicine Specialists at Sugar Land.
Monitor your symptoms if you’re not feeling well:
- Mild respiratory symptoms include having a low-grade fever, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, mild cough and mild body aches. What to do: Get tested for COVID-19. Stay home and isolate yourself from others to avoid spreading illness, even if you test negative for COVID-19.
- Moderate respiratory symptoms include fever over 100.4 F, persistent cough, temporary shortness of breath and feeling like you need to stay in bed. What to do: Get tested for COVID-19 and contact your doctor about worsening symptoms.
- Severe respiratory symptoms include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, trouble staying awake and bluish lips or face. What to do: Seek emergency medical care for severe respiratory symptoms.
Mild cases of respiratory illness can often be managed with rest, fluids and fever-reducing medicines at home. However, don’t wait to see a doctor if you’re in a high-risk group and experiencing worsening symptoms. Mild or moderate symptoms can quickly become severe for older adults and those who have heart disease, diabetes, cancer or chronic respiratory problems.
Manage Your Health Conditions
If you have chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it’s important to manage the condition closely with your doctor. Keeping up with your regular checkups is essential in controlling symptoms and protecting your health. Continue taking medications as directed and contact your doctor with any questions or concerns about managing your condition.
“To help patients feel more comfortable and reduce exposure, we’re offering telehealth visits and video visits,” said Ahmed. Ask your doctor for recommendations before going in for appointments and consider having medications sent directly to your home so you don’t have to make extra trips to the pharmacy.
Protect Your Lungs Every Day
Ahmed recommends taking these steps to keep your lungs healthy:
- Get regular exercise. Being physically active can increase lung capacity and improve lung function. Exercising makes your heart and lungs work harder, which increases oxygen and improves circulation around the lungs. Any form of exercise that involves taking deep breaths can help improve your lung capacity.
- Quit smoking and vaping. Smoking irritates the airways and causes long-term damage to the lungs. Smoking and vaping can lead to lung cancer and COPD, and worsen complications due to COVID-19 or other serious respiratory infections. It’s never too late to quit, and the benefits of quitting kick in right away. Talk to your doctor about getting support to quit smoking.
- Minimize exposure to allergens. Allergens can trigger respiratory problems and other issues. Keep allergies in check and improve indoor air quality by avoiding mold spores, controlling dust mites, keeping surfaces in home clean and uncluttered, minimizing pet dander, preventing pollen from getting inside by keeping windows and doors closed and ventilating when using products with strong chemical odors.
“Everyone has a part to play in helping to protect each other by following recommended respiratory etiquette,” said Ahmed. Stay vigilant and help prevent the spread of illness by staying home from work or school if you feel sick, practicing social distancing, getting a flu shot, wearing a cloth mask in public, washing your hands often and wiping down frequently touched surfaces.
Lung Cancer Screening
A respiratory condition that often goes undetected until it spreads is lung cancer. That’s why staying on track with lung cancer screening is important. If you’re a current or former smoker, ask your doctor about lung cancer screening. Testing may be recommended if you meet all the following criteria:
- Age 55-77 years
- No current signs or symptoms of lung cancer
- Tobacco smoking history of at least 30 pack-years (calculated by multiplying the number of packs smoked per day by the number of years smoked)
- Current smoker or former smoker who has quit within the last 15 years
- Have not had a chest CT scan in the last year
A written order is required for all lung cancer screening procedures. Visit houstonmethodist.org/lung-screening to fill out an interest form or call 281.672.8585 for more information. If you qualify, we can help you determine insurance coverage or payment options, and schedule an appointment at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital.