How to Recognize and Avoid Chronic Lung Conditions

All I want to do in the winter is snuggle under some warm blankets with a good book and cup of cocoa, as I’m sure many of you can agree with. I would also take a guess that you tend to get sick around this time of the year. Hello runny nose, sore throat and exhaustion! So I thought there would be no better time to share a quick guide on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle to help prevent a serious chronic lung disease, one issue that hits close to home for me.

What are some chronic lung conditions?

COPD is a chronic lung disease that obstructs airflow from the lungs and generally develops later in life. Adults over 40 may begin to have symptoms like a dry cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, or a tight chest. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the most common conditions of COPD. Fabgrandpa has COPD. When we worked at the Grand Canyon, at an altitude of almost 9,000 feet, he had a really difficult time acclimating to the climate there. Every spring, he wound up in the emergency room, getting breathing treatments. He also gets bronchitis frequently when seasons change.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. The most common type of mesothelioma, comprising about 80% of cases, is pleural mesothelioma, which affects the thin tissue surrounding the lungs. Some symptoms include difficulty breathing, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and fluid build up.

Asthma is more common, tends to be diagnosed during childhood, and can be triggered by exercise, allergies, or inhaled particles and gasses. This can cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and tightened airways. My youngest daughter had asthma when she was growing up. Her attacks could be triggered by excitement, such as a birthday party or Christmas. She was allergic to live Christmas trees, and had an asthma attack every year at Christmas until her doctor told me to take down the tree. We had an artificial tree after that.

Lung cancer is sadly the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S with over 200,000 new cases per year. Similar to some of the other conditions, symptoms include a dry, phlegmy cough, weakness and loss of appetite, frequent respiratory infections, shortness of breath, and hoarseness.

Tips to Help Prevent Lung Disease

Though there are treatments for these conditions, many of them can’t be completely cured. But who want’s to deal with the symptoms, tediousness and sometimes pain of treatment? Don’t worry though! Follow a few of these preventative tips instead.

  1. Avoid smoke: Tobacco smoke is related to about 90% of cancer cases and about 80% of COPD deaths. It can also trigger asthma attacks for some people. The American Lung Association has some great resources to help you quit here, because it’s never too late. Did you know your risk for lung cancer drops by half after 10 years of being smoke free? That’s amazing!
  1. Avoid air pollution: Okay I know this one’s hard because air pollution is essentially everywhere, but it is important to know that even the air you breath outside, where you think of fresh pure air, can be hazardous and incite asthma and COPD. Air pollution is not just the smoke from power plants and factories that you might be imagining, but it also comes from fireplaces, vehicles, and even natural wildfires, volcanoes, and dust storms. Though you alone can’t stop air pollution, you can watch your carbon footprint and monitor your own intake of dirty air by checking the daily air quality forecast before you exercise outside.
  2. Avoid hidden toxins: Asbestos is a natural mineral used in many homes for insulation, floor tiles, shingles, and much more. It is still legal to use asbestos in the U.S. even though it is well know that it causes the cancer mesothelioma. Protect yourself by hiring a professional to check your home for asbestos before renovations if your home was built before the 1980s and NEVER try to remove it yourself. Even inhaling the tiniest particle is not safe. You can even use your voice and contact your representatives to get the EPA to ban asbestos once and for all!
  3. Use an artificial Christmas tree. While not everyone is allergic to the trees used as Christmas trees, they can contain pollen, dust, mites, and aphids that can trigger an asthma attack when used indoors. Using an artificial tree can prevent having an attack of a chronic lung disease during the holidays. 
  4. 5. A second harmful indoor toxin is radon, which can cause lung cancer with long-term exposure. Found naturally in the soil and bedrock of certain areas, elevated radon levels occur in about 1 in 15 homes in the U.S. Protect yourself from this colorless, odorless gas by getting your home professionally tested or by using an at home test kit.

Additionally, there are many toxins that you may be unaware of in products that are ironically supposed to be making your house cleaner. Use this guide to know whether your cleaner contains harmful toxins or if it’s a-ok. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce the chemical ingredient name, it’s probably not healthy for you to be breathing.

What do you do to protect your lungs and stay healthy during the winter months? Comment below with your thoughts!

*Note: I am not a doctor so please consult your doctor if you are having any symptoms or believe that you might have a lung disease.

Fabgrandpa Has COPD, But What Is That Exactly?

Fabgrandpa was diagnosed with COPD about six years ago. We were working at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, at an elevation of nearly 9,000 feet. Every Spring when we went back to work, it took longer and longer for him to acclimated to the elevation. He had a hard time breathing, felt short of breath most of the time, and coughed a lot. He wound up in the emergency room in Flagstaff for a breathing treatment, and got prescriptions for an antibiotic and a steroid to help open up his airways. Bronchitis was a regular thing for him. 

At the time of his diagnosis with COPD, he was still smoking cigarettes, about a pack a day. His doctor and the other medical professionals he saw all told him he needed to quit, because smoking exacerbated his condition. While they all told him he had COPD, none of the doctors actually told him what COPD was. He seemed to always be asking “What is COPD?”

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a term used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory, or not-reversible, asthma, and some forms of bronchiectasis. That is a lot of big words used to describe disorders that make breathing difficult. Most people start to develop COPD when they are around 40 years old, but they don’t notice the symptoms at first. You begin to see the symptoms when the more developed stages of the disease. Symptoms include increased shortness of breath, frequent coughing with and without sputum, wheezing, and tightness in the chest. Fabgrandpa had all of these symptoms. COPD affects about 24 million people in the United States. 

There are many risk factors and causes of COPD. It can be caused by inhaling pollutants, including cigarette smoke, and second hand smoke. Fumes, chemicals, and dust found in work environments contribute to the development of COPD. Genetics can also play a role in an individual’s development of COPD—even if the person has never smoked or has ever been exposed to strong lung irritants in the workplace.  Fabgrandpa tested deficient in Alpha1 antitrypsin, which is a genetic disorder that causes COPD and liver disease. 

If you have shortness of breath, or have a hard time keeping up with people your age, you may want to ask your doctor to test you for COPD if are a smoker, if you have a history of COPD in our family, or if you have been exposed to harmful chemical fumes for a long period of time.  It is important  to get tested because leaving symptoms misdiagnosed, untreated, or undertreated may cause them to worsen faster than if they were treated with proper medication and therapy. Many adults are incorrectly diagnosed with asthma. Providing a proper diagnosis means individuals will receive the right treatments and follow up monitoring. There’s no cure yet for COPD but treatments are available to help individuals live better.

Fabgrandpa: Scheduled For A Cardiac Catheterization

 Cardiac catheterization

Fabgrandpa

In the ongoing circle of going to doctors, trying to figure out what is wrong with the man of the house, we have now seen Dr. Howell, the primary care physician; Dr. G, the Ear/Nose/Throat doctor; Dr. Mikolides, the neurologist; Dr. Whitney, The vascular surgeon; Dr. Robinson, the pulmonologist, and now Dr. Rouse, the cardiologist. 

 Cardiac catheterization

Me and Fabgrandpa in 2011

The first time we went to see Dr. Robinson was June 22. She took a medical history, and sheduled Fabgrandpa for a lung function test. He has had lung function tests before at the VA, but those were very simple, easy tests compared to what Dr. Robinson did. This lung function test was very sophisticated, with ultra modern equipment. Fabgrandpa sat in what looked like a modern telephone booth, and the breaths he took were recorded electronically. This machine gave Dr. Robinson a ton of information about Fabgrandpa’s lung function. Quite a contrast with the plastic tube that the VA used, which only showed how far he could blow the marker up the tube. 

Next, Dr. Robinson changed the medication he was using to see if there would be any change in breathing ability. She also took blood to run a bunch of tests. We were referred to Dr. Rouse, a cardiologist, for a stress test. 

With our granddaughter, Sarah at her school play last year.

With our granddaughter, Sarah at her school play last year.

On Monday last week, Fabgrandpa went to Dr. Rouse’s office for the stress test. Because he can not walk for very long without getting out of breath, they did the chemical stress test, where they inject Fabgrandpa with the chemical, and then monitor his heart function.

On Wednesday, we went back to Dr. Robinson’s office for results of his testing. She told us that he has Alpha1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, which is an inherited condition that raises your risk for lung and liver disease. She said that even if he had never smoked a cigarette in his life, with Alpha-1, he could still get COPD. Dr. Robinson is setting up a home health nurse who will come to our house once a week and give Fabgrandpa an Alpha-1 injection. 

When we got home from the pulmonologist’s office, we got a call from Dr. Rouse’s office, asking if we could come in the next day at 8:00 a.m. We took that appointment and got up bright and early to get there on time. 

Dr. Rouse said that the stress test came back as “abnormal”, and he is scheduling a Cardiac catheterization for Thursday, August 18. Next week. All of this is happening so quickly that we are wondering why we didn’t start with the pulmonologist and cardiologist, instead of taking this round about journey to get here.  If Dr. Rouse finds a blockage, he will go ahead an insert stents while he is in there with the catheter.

I am nervous, worried, scared, but also hopeful that the things these two doctors aare doing will make my sweetheart feel better. I hope that getting stents will allow Fabgrandpa to feel good enough to go on day trips, and go out and have some fun. All we have done for about two years now is go to doctors. It gets to be depressing, and disheartening, to go from one doctor to another and still feel bad. I’ll let you all know how things go with the Cardiac catheterization on Thursday.

Four Reasons I Haven’t Been Writing About My Life Lately

Do you ever have those moments where you feel like you need to do something, but you just don’t have the motivation to get it done. If you are like me, the thing you need to do at that moment will be put aside for an hour, a day, a week, and on and on until it has become months and months that you have not done that thing. Well, the thing is, I just haven’t been writing any chatty, personal posts here since April when Fabgrandpa and I went to Richmond to visit our daughter. And if you know me, you know that is just not like me. So, when you look up there at my header, and see all those “thought bubbles” of things I like to do and write about, you will see all the things we haven’t been doing this summer. 

new header_Fotor

There has been a lot going on here in the Fab household. None of it has been fun. Some of it is not my story to tell, but it has had an effect on me which IS my story, so I need to say a bit about that. With that said, here are the top four reasons I have not been writing charming, witty, and interesting posts to entertain you, my readers. 

Fabgrandpa and I Have Been Sick

Fabgrandpa and me last year.

Fabgrandpa and me last year.

It is not a major illness, but we have been passing a nasty bug back and forth between us for what seems like months. This bug, whatever it is, causes me to get an ear infection, and chest congestion. I have had at least three rounds of antibiotics, which beats it back for a while, but once I have taken all of the pills, it comes back in a few days. I’m really tired of it. So is Fabgrandpa. Because he has COPD, he is also given steroids along with the antibiotic. I’m just ready for it to go away. 

Doctor Appointments. And More Doctor Appointments

In addition to the bug that will not leave us alone, Fabgrandpa started seeing a pulmonologist. This is the first time he has seen a pulmonologist since he was diagnosed with COPD several years ago. She changed some of the meds he was taking, and has ordered a ton of tests, which created more appointments at various places. She also referred him to a cardiologist for a stress test to make sure that his shortness of breath is not being partially caused by an underlying heart problem. He has not been to that appointment yet. Some weeks we have had three appointments. It does seem like that is all we do right now. All of the places we have been going for the appointments are about 30 miles from home, so it is a 60 mile round trip. By the time we get home, I am exhausted, and spend the rest of the day in my recliner, sleeping. 

My Mother’s Dementia Has Gotten Worse

Mama will be 89 in November.

Mama will be 89 in November.

My younger sister, Linda, has taken care of Mama for many years. But, she has a new job with the sheriff’s office, and can’t take off work as much as she did at her old job. I have been taking Mama to her doctor’s appointments for the last year or so, which is a 90 mile round trip for me. In the last few months, Mama has gotten to the point where she needs a wheelchair to get around, and her dementia has gotten bad. She fell twice in her hallway because she forgot to use her walker. The last time she fell, she was admitted to the hospital, and was taken from there to a rehabilitation facility for physical therapy. My siblings and I met and decided that it was time to move Mama to an assisted living apartment. This has not been an easy decision. It has been emotionally and physically draining on all of us. Linda and her husband Alan took Mama to her new home yesterday. 

The decision to move our mother to assisted living meant we have had to empty her house and put it on the market to sell it. She has been living in her house for 51 years. Every closet, every drawer, every kitchen cabinet, was packed full of her life. She kept everything. Every greeting card anyone ever sent her. Every scrap of paper. We even found three pairs of pants that belonged to our brother who died in 1979. I made the trip to Mama’s house every other day, a 90 mile round trip, for almost two weeks. On the days I didn’t go, I slept in my recliner. If I didn’t have to take Fabgrandpa to an appointment. That monumental task is complete for the most part. We are now hoping her house sells quickly. 

My Son Is Getting A Divorce

Owen and Amelia with Fabgrandpa at Michael's graduation last year.

Owen and Amelia with Fabgrandpa at Michael’s graduation last year.

While this is not my story to tell, it does affect me. I have been so sad for him, and have been grieving along with him over this loss. His wife left with Owen and Amelia, my grandson and granddaughter, in May, and went back to England. I haven’t seen them since before Easter. I may never see them again. My heart is broken, and I feel like it will never recover. I feel like a fraud calling myself Fabgrandma, because I don’t feel so fab at all. 

So, there you have it. The reasons I have not been motivated to write. I am participating in the ProBlogger  Challenge – 7 Days to Getting Your Blogging Groove Back. Go check out the podcast if you would like to participate.