They look perfectly healthy. There’s no outward sign of disease. But for millions of Americans, chronic and debilitating conditions such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) could be lurking inside.
October is the time for ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night, but it’s also a time to heighten awareness for a different sort of specter: Lung disease. And it can be very, very scary.
During Healthy Lung Month the American Lung Association (ALA), the Lung Institute and Pulmonary Fibrosis Association want you to breathe a little easier and take steps to raising awareness for lung health. Gaining early diagnosis and treatment is key. And understanding the symptoms of COPD, IPF, and other lung diseases is the best way to seek medical intervention when needed, and ease fears.
Lung diseases affect millions of people every year. In the US alone, approximately 100,000 people have idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, 30,000 have cystic fibrosis, and 30 million suffer from COPD. 4.7 million others have been diagnosed with emphysema and about 25 million people live with asthma.
But the most deadly and sinister lung disease is cancer. Lung cancer is the top killer among all cancers in America. More than 225,000 people are diagnosed with this deadly disease every year.
Fortunately, there is now a simple low-dose CT scan that may save millions of lives. For people who smoked and are at an elevated risk of lung cancer, The American Lung Association now provides a quick quiz that can determine if you’re eligible. In fact, if you’re in a high-risk group, insurance may even cover the cost.
Since early detection increases chances of meaningful treatment and recovery, here are the warning signs to be aware of according to ALA:
Chronic cough: If it lasts for more than a month, and you just can’t shake it, something may be wrong with your respiratory system.
Shortness of breath: It’s not normal to experience shortness of breath that doesn’t go away after exercising, or that you have after little or no exertion. Labored or difficult breathing—the feeling that it is hard to breathe in out—is also a warning sign.
Chronic mucus production: If your mucus production has lasted a month or longer, this could indicate lung disease.
Wheezing: Noisy breathing or wheezing is a sign that something unusual is blocking your lungs’ airways or making them too narrow.
Coughing up blood: If you are coughing up blood, it may be coming from your lungs or upper respiratory tract. Wherever it’s coming from, it signals a health problem.
Chronic chest pain: Unexplained chest pain that lasts for a month or more—especially if it gets worse when you breathe in or cough—also is a warning sign.