Your Hardworking Lungs Need Protecting

Your Hardworking Lungs Need Protecting

Your Hardworking Lungs Need Protecting

Lee esto en EspañolYour lungs help you breathe. But they do much more. They help you fight infections. They help your other organs work. They do so much for your overall health — and they need your protection.

Your lungs are easily harmed. Anything you breathe in can hurt them. Take time to learn what threats there are to your lungs and how to protect yourself from them.

Environmental Hazards

Potential dangers to your lungs are all around you — at home, outside or at work. The American Lung Association says air pollution, secondhand smoke and chemicals used at home or at work can cause or worsen lung disease.

The biggest outdoor danger to lungs is air pollution. It can come from vehicles, power tools, burning trash, and wildfires. The American Lung Association offers 10 tips for protecting yourself and your family from unhealthy airleaving site icon

Indoor dangers include fuel burning appliances, building materials, cleaners and other common household and personal care products, too much moisture, and AC and heating systems. Radon, pesticides and other outdoor pollutants that have gotten inside can also cause problems.

Take an interactive tour leaving site icon from the Environmental Protection Agency to learn more about specific indoor risks and how to protect yourself from them.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women in the U.S. People have different symptoms leaving site icon of lung cancer. Some have coughing, wheezing and chest pain. But most people don’t have signs until the cancer is advanced.

Smoking causes the majority of lung cancers — both in smokers and in people exposed to secondhand smoke, says the Mayo Clinicleaving site icon

What Are the Risk Factors?
Risk factors for lung cancer include:

  • Smoking: Your risk grows with the number of cigarettes you smoke each day and the number of years you have smoked. Quitting at any age can cut your risk of getting lung cancer.
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke: Your risk increases if you're exposed to secondhand smoke. Avoid areas where people smoke.
  • Radiation therapy: If you've had radiation to the chest for some other type of cancer, you may have a higher chance of developing lung cancer.
  • Exposure to radon gas: Radon is made by the normal breakdown of uranium. But breathing it can be harmful. Unsafe levels can be found in homes and other buildings. You can test your home for radon.
  • Exposure to asbestos: Workplace exposure to asbestos can raise your risk of having lung cancer. So can being around other substances known to cause cancer, like arsenic, chromium and nickel. The risk is even higher if you are also a smoker.
  • Family history: People with a parent, sibling or child with lung cancer have a raised risk of the disease.

Lung Cancer Screening
Screening for lung cancer can help catch cancer earlier, when it may be more treatable. But it isn’t recommended for everyone.

Lung cancer screening can have risks. So lung cancer screening is recommended only for adults who are at high risk for developing the disease because of their smoking history and age.

If you smoke now or used to and are over 50, talk to your doctor about lung cancer screening. And check your benefit plan to see what preventive services may be covered at no cost to you.*

Find out more from the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionleaving site icon

Steps Everyone Can Take for Healthier Lungs

Many choices for better overall health are also good for your lungs. Follow these tips to protect your lungs.

Get routine health exams and preventive care. Even if you aren’t sick, a routine yearly health exam can help to prevent serious health problems. During a health exam, the doctors will listen to your lungs and breathing. And you can discuss any concerns you may have.

Exercise. Staying active is good for your total health. Exercise also helps to improve lung capacity. Breathing exercises can also boost your mood and help you relax.

Avoid exposure to pollutants. They can cause lung disease or make it worse. Lean how to avoid them. leaving site icon

Prevent infection. Protect yourself from respiratory and other infections:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water. Use alcohol-based cleaners if you don’t have use of a sink.
  • Take care of your teeth and gums. Brush your teeth at least twice daily. And see your dentist at least every six months to guard against infections.
  • Get vaccinated against the flu. And talk to your doctor to find out if the COVID-19 and pneumonia vaccines are right for you.
  • If you get sick, stay home. Help protect the people around you by keeping your distance when you’re sick.

Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your lung health. 

*If you have a grandfathered plan (a plan that was in existence on or before March 23, 2010), preventive care without out-of-pocket costs may not apply to you.

Sources: 10 Tips to Protect Yourself From Unhealthy Air, leaving site icon American Lung Association, 2023; Indoor Air Can Cause Health Problems, leaving site icon University of Rochester Medical Center; Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), leaving site icon Environmental Protection Agency, 2024; Lung Cancer, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2022; Protecting Your Lungs, leaving site icon American Lung Association, 2023; Lung Cancer Screening, leaving site icon U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, 2021; What Are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023; Who Should Be Screened for Lung Cancer?, leaving site icon CDC, 2023

Originally published 12/28/2022; Revised 2024