According to the latest Center for Disease Control (CDC) data, over 147,000 Americans die in a single year from chronic respiratory disease. Another 155,500 die from lung cancer. In fact, more American men and women are dying from lung cancer than any other form of cancer.
Lung health is something many of us take for granted until something goes wrong. Air pollutants are a huge concern that we sometimes pay attention to, but only awareness of risks to our lungs and proactive care for them prevents lifelong and deadly disease. This is exactly what October aims to do: bring one of the most important health issues to the forefront of our attention with National Healthy Lung Month.
Driving Awareness and Prevention of Lung Disease
National Healthy Lung Month is designed to remind us about the prevalence of lung disease, the importance of protecting our lungs and the environmental issues that can harm these vital organs. The campaign focuses on ways to avoid lung health issues and eradicate environmental hazards, as well as on empowering people to deal with lung disease if it arises.
Right now, lung disease affects a staggering number of Americans. The annual number of people who die from various types of lung disease – which includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma – is high and horrific, but even more men and women are diagnosed with lung disease every year. The number of adults diagnosed with chronic bronchitis in the past year, for example, was 9.3 million.
How Has Lung Disease Escalated to This Degree?
The problem largely accountable for making these diseases so pervasive is widespread misconception about their causes. One misbelief is that air pollutants exist only outdoors. Bacteria and viruses, tobacco smoke and exhaust fumes are risk factors that affect our lungs in many serious ways. But indoor pollutants in the home or at work can be just as harmful, if not worse, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
For example, COPD, a lethal disease usually caused by long-term exposure to lung irritants, is linked to indoor, occupational exposure in 15 percent of cases – but isn’t the only occupational lung disease with fatal consequences. Asbestos is another toxic substance responsible for several other diseases. A mineral once used in construction whose dangers were hidden from the public for decades, asbestos has affected thousands of Americans in the workplace and now kills up to 15,000 Americans every year. Mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused exclusively by asbestos that attacks the lining of the lungs, is not only deadly but incurable.
Making Your Contribution Count
The more proactive we can be in preventing these diseases, the better. However, due to the competitive corporate climate, where many companies will do anything to increase their bottom lines, Americans are still exposed to over 80,000 chemicals – many proven to be toxic to our lungs. Because asbestos-containing products have yet to be banned or fully eradicated, approximately 3,000 people per year are still diagnosed with mesothelioma and given less than a year to live.
In support of Healthy Lung Month, we must take a nationwide stand against these pollutants. One of the most important ways to participate in the movement is to take an active role in the health of our own lungs and the lungs of those around us. Having regular medical checkups, looking out for signs of toxic substances and keeping our local communities clean all make a critical difference. We can also help promote activities that call for better regulation of harmful products. For those already affected, we should provide strong sources of support.
Even as we enter November, our work will not be done. Lung disease prevention will continue for as long as corporations and lobbyists fight to keep toxins circulating in our environment. In the 3,000 gallons of air we breathe per day, all it takes to develop lung disease is minuscule exposure to a toxic substance – as little as one fiber, in the case of asbestos. With stakes so high from exposure so small, we can’t afford to relax our efforts for even one minute.