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Breathing Easy

Combatting the Effects of Lifestyle Habits, Flu and Pneumonia on Lung Function

Lung Function

What causes your lung function to decline? How can you prevent this from happening?

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Daniel DuPont, DO, discusses the effects of lifestyle and
diseases on lung function.

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Daniel DuPont, D.O., chief of the Section of Pulmonary Diseases and chairman of the Department of Medicine at Taylor Hospital, spoke to an audience about the importance of vaccinations to combat influenza and pneumonia, and also spoke about the effects of aging and lifestyle on lung function.

When it comes to dealing with influenza, preparation is often the best medicine.

“Many of our parents taught us that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” explained Daniel DuPont, D.O., chief of the Section of Pulmonary Diseases and chairman of the Department of Medicine at Taylor Hospital, during a recent lecture at the hospital. “That rings especially true when it comes to two major lung problems: the flu and pneumonia.”

The pneumonia vaccine, he explained, covers about 33 strains of the pneumonia bacteria, including streptococcal pneumonia, the most common.

“Many people have had bacterial pneumonia and consider it to be not that big of a deal, and they’ll ask why they need the vaccine,” Dr. DuPont said. “The answer is, it can become a big deal. People have died from bacterial pneumonia. Therefore, the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine should be given to anyone who is over the age of 65.”

The vaccine is effective for five to 10 years and can be obtained from a person’s family doctor, a public health center or a veteran’s administration center.

“No one likes getting shots, but this one-time shot will take you through five to 10 years, and maybe even longer,” Dr. DuPont said. “That’s five to 10 years of prevention we’re talking about.”

The second type of vaccine that can prevent major medical problems is the influenza vaccine.

“Influenza occurs on a seasonal basis, beginning around Christmas and extending into the springtime,” Dr. DuPont explained. “It is a serious infection. It’s a viral infection, so it’s not going to get better with antibiotics. It’s also a highly contagious infection, and when you get it, you get very sick.”

Influenza can kill its victims by either causing pneumonia or by leading to encephalitis, or swelling of the brain.

“If you think you have the flu, contact your physician,” Dr. DuPont said. “There are medications your doctor can prescribe that can help with your symptoms, and he or she can even prescribe them over the phone if your symptoms are felt to be influenza. In addition, if you think you have the flu, do not go to the Emergency Room, for several reasons. First, if you don’t have the flu, you may be going to an environment where the flu exists and catch it there. Second, if you have the flu and people in the ER don’t have it, you could transmit it to them. Instead, call your doctor.”

According to Dr. DuPont, influenza kills between 30,000 and 40,000 people in America each season.

“If you are over 65, get the flu shot,” he said. “If you have diabetes, certain forms of cancer, chronic bronchitis, asthma, or any other condition, get the flu shot. Get it every year.”

In addition to speaking about the importance of vaccinations, Dr. DuPont also explained some of the more common pulmonary conditions that can affect people as they age.

“Lung function declines as you get older,” he said. “We reach our maximum lung function between the ages of 17 and 20, and function declines ever so slightly every year after that. However, the important thing to understand is that if you look at how your lung function declines, if you have no other problems with your lungs, you would outlive the point in your lung function where that decline would cause you to die. Your lung function could last you about 180 years if it simply declined at the normal predictable rate.”

However, Dr. DuPont said, many factors contribute to an accelerated rate of decline that can cause lung disease and death.

“Lung function declines at an accelerated rate in people who smoke,” he said. “It accelerates it to such a speed, in fact, that people who smoked in their 20s, 30s and 40 can get symptomatic in their 50s, 60s and 70s.”

Lung function can also decline as a result of occupational hazards, he said.

“So what can we do so that we can try and do as much as we can with what we have?” Dr. DuPont asked. “The first thing you should do is, if you smoke, stop. It is never too late to quite smoking. The changes that cigarettes cause continue as long as you smoke, and the improvement that occurs when you quit begins almost immediately.”

Other ways you to maintain lung function include eating well, taking care of any medical problems you have, weight control, and regular exercise.

“Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean joining a health club,” he said. “You can simply go to one of the local malls and walk a few laps. As your lung function improves, try climbing the stairs.”

If all else fails, he said, don’t hesitate to call your physician.

“You’re entitled access to your doctor, he said. “There is nothing wrong with calling him or her if you have a question. Also, be knowledgeable about your health. If you are seeing many different doctors for many different conditions, write down the medications you are taking so your doctor can see if the condition you’re calling about is related to one of the medications. But don’t be afraid to call. You’re not bothering the doctor, you’re not incurring any expense, and if you’re running a fever of 101 or have any other condition, you’re certainly not going overboard.”

For information about the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Department at Taylor Hospital, call (610) 595-6491.

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