If you smoke cigarettes and are thinking about quitting or are already trying to quit, you probably can't help but wonder just what is going on in your lungs. After all, the lungs can be pretty mysterious. What do they look like? We know they're filled with air, so does that mean they're like balloons? Are they muscles? Are they pink? Are they black? "Good grief," you might be thinking, "If I'm a smoker - what condition are my lungs in?" And here's probably the most commonly asked question I hear: What makes me short of breath?
You may also be thinking, "Are my lungs really damaged from my years of smoking, or have I dodged a bullet and if I quit soon will my lungs - and my breathing - be alright? Will I be alright? Or is it already too late to quit, so might I just as well keep on puffing, enjoy it and let the chips fall where they may? Do I already have this "COPD" disease that I'm hearing about these days? And, if I do, YIKES! Does that mean I'm going to wind up a crabby, wrinkled old fogey with a hose in my nose and gasping for breath?" These are questions every smoker asks. Every single one. And asking them is okay, in fact it's good, because that means you're taking your first step to getting answers.
It takes a lot of courage to face the fact that you might have a chronic, incurable - but very treatable - disease. And to think that this disease might have been caused by a specific behavior on your part, well, that makes your courage even more remarkable. I'm here to tell you - this is not the time for shame, blame, or guilt. We can slay that dragon another day! For now, let's just see what we're up against.
Here are some quick and easy questions and answers. They're by no means complete, but they're a start. And this is what we're all about today - making a start.
Are my lungs damaged? If you are or have been a smoker, the answer is yes, they probably are, but the good news is that we are all born with far more lung capacity than we'll need in our lifetime. So if we sustain lung damage, we usually have some time to clean up our act and at least slow down the progression of the disease before it gets way out of hand.
Is it too late to quit? No, it's never too late to quit! And if you're trying to quit and then slip back and start smoking again, just take a deep breath (no pun intended) and make a new plan to get back up on that horse and try again. Stopping smoking at any time slows lung disease progression way down. We'll talk more about that another time.
Do I already have COPD? Well, maybe you do. But that doesn't mean it's the end of your world. It so does not mean that! You don't have to end up crabby and gasping. I'm here to tell you that you can live a long time and live in health after you quit smoking, even with COPD. Yes, you really can. You can find out if you have COPD by taking an easy lung function test, also called spirometry. It will give your doctor and you the numbers.