According to WebMD, 1 out of 7 (or 15%) middle-aged and older US adults have lung disorders, including but not limited to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Of these people, 10% have mild breathing problems, while over one-third have moderate or severe symptoms.
Dr. Norman Edelman, senior medical advisor to the American Lung Association, remarked:
There are a huge number of Americans that experience lung obstruction. It’s a major problem; it’s the third leading cause of death in the United States.
In this article, we will outline how to recognize breathing problems and what you should do to treat them.
Progress Of Lung Health As You Age
Breathing complications are, unfortunately, an inevitability. You can delay their onset, but you most likely will not be able to fully prevent them.
Aging affects your lung tissue, muscles, and bones, impacting the way you breathe. According to the American Lung Association, lung function starts declining after the age of about 35. As you age, breathing slowly becomes more difficult over time. In most people, breathing complications aren’t due to the lungs directly – rather, they develop because of changes in muscle and cardiovascular systems.
Among some of the things that may cause breathing difficulties as you age are:
- Alveoli may lose their shape and turn baggy. If you didn’t know, alveoli are microscopic sacs in your lungs responsible for picking up oxygen and releasing waste carbon dioxide.
- The diaphragm may become weaker, decreasing your ability to inhale and exhale. This change is significant during exercise.
- Your ribcage may become less capable of expanding and contracting due to changes in bone shape and thickness, complicating breathing.
- Nerves that trigger coughing may become less sensitive, allowing foreign particles to build up in your lungs. This could lead to lung tissue damage. Oscillatory positive expiratory pressure (OPEP) devices like AirPhysio may be able to help you release foreign particles from the lungs and provide relief.
- Your immune system may weaken, making you more vulnerable to infections like the flu or pneumonia.
Prevention Is The Key To Long-Term Lung Health
Rather than deal with breathing problems as they appear, you should try to prevent them, if possible. If you are reading this article, you probably already have breathing problems, but it’s actually not too late to make a few beneficial changes for lung health:
- Do not smoke. Smoking harms your lungs and amplifies the effects of aging. Avoid smoking to keep your lungs healthy.
- Avoid polluted air. Chemicals, smoke, smog, and outdoor air pollution can severely damage your lungs in the long term. Aside from shortness of breath, air pollutants increase the risk of lung cancer, heart attacks, and strokes.
- Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity can help you keep your chest strong.
- Lose weight. Abdominal fat can interfere with the diaphragm, preventing it from fully expanding the lungs.
- Minimize lying down. Lying down for prolonged periods could allow mucus and fluid to build up in your lungs.
- Regularly have health check-ups. Regularly undergo health check-ups – this will allow you to spot lung issues early.
Breathing Problems And Seniors: Is It Just Old Age? Or Is It COPD?
The gradual onset of breathing difficulties is considered normal (though you should take measures to delay them as much as you can). However, is your shortness of breath caused by aging? Maybe, you actually have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)?
COPD is a group of lung diseases, like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These diseases are most often caused by smoking or secondhand smoke, but long-term exposure to air pollutants could lead to COPD as well.
COPD has a number of distinct symptoms that make identifying it more or less easy. These symptoms are:
- Persistent cough with mucus.
- Shortness of breath (aggravated during exercise).
- Wheezing sound when breathing.
- Tightness in the chest.
In severe cases, more symptoms appear, such as:
- Difficulty talking or breathing.
- Very fast heartbeat.
- Low mental alertness.
- Blue or gray lips or fingernails.
Age-associated shortness of breath mostly isn’t accompanied by these symptoms. Due to this, it’s usually easy to distinguish between breathing issues caused by COPD and aging.
COPD usually occurs in people aged over 40. However, it is not a natural part of aging. If you have any of the symptoms of COPD, you should call your doctor immediately.
Currently, there’s no cure for COPD, but its symptoms can be relieved. Among other things, you could:
- Quit smoking.
- Practice breathing exercises.
- Stay physically active.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Minimize stress.
- Use OPEP devices for relief.
Possible Causes Of Breathing Problems In Seniors
COPD and aging aren’t the only things that could make breathing insanely challenging for you. Shortness of breath may also be caused by:
- Asthma – an inflammation and narrowing of the airways.
- Pneumonia – a lung infection that can cause inflammation and buildup of pus and fluid in the lungs. Pneumonia can be life-threatening.
- Pulmonary embolism – blockage of one or more arteries leading to the lungs. This is a serious condition that requires immediate treatment.
- Pulmonary hypertension – high blood pressure affecting lung arteries.
- Croup – a respiratory disease caused by an acute viral infection.
- Epiglottitis – swelling of the tissue covering your windpipe. Epiglottitis requires immediate medical attention.
- Coronary artery disease – causes the arteries supplying blood to the heart to harden and narrow.
- Congenital heart disease – inherited issues with the function and structure of the heart.
- Arrhythmias – irregular heartbeat that causes abnormal heart rhythm and heart rate.
- Congestive heart failure – occurs when the heart muscle is incapable of adequately moving blood throughout the body.
Sudden Onset Of Breathing Problems Is Not Normal
If you experience a surge of cough, mucus buildup, or breathing difficulties, your issues most likely are not age-related. Call your doctor as soon as you can – delays could cost you dearly if you don’t.