Tragically, chronic lung issues continue to be a significant cause of discomfort and death. Doctors and patients alike are often frustrated by the lack of treatments to improve lung strength and endurance, versus just slowing decline. Those with chronic conditions such as emphysema must be proactive to maintain, and ideally improve, lung function.

Emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refer to the loss of normal lung function. Normal lungs are repeatedly contracting and expanding, allowing numerous tiny air sacs, called alveoli, to receive oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Function begins to decline when these alveoli are destroyed, or the lung loses its natural elastic properties.

Other lung impairments arise from muscle loss in the chest wall. If the chest wall muscles are weak, they will have a much harder time moving air in and out the lungs efficiently. Weak muscles also limit the ability to cough. If a person can’t cough, they can’t clear mucus properly. Excess mucus accumulation further impairs breathing and provides an ongoing, susceptible site for chronic infections.

A multistep approach is needed to prevent and overcome these issues. Smokers must aggressively study the options available for cessation. Unfortunately, one of the dangers of chronic smoke exposure is the damage to the lungs’ air sac where oxygen is brought in the blood stream. Much of this damage is irreversible, and the longer one is exposed, the greater the risk for this damage. This is also important for those exposed to secondhand smoke or toxic fumes. If a job poses a risk, patients should use all precautions to protect themselves and consider the therapies mentioned below to keep the lungs as healthy as possible.

Inflammation is now becoming more commonly associated with many chronic diseases, including emphysema. Chronic inflammation in any organ, including the lungs, will eventually lead to scar tissue and loss of function. Controlling inflammation may aid the lungs by decreasing mucus production and lessening the destruction of tissue. By calming this process, the body can maintain a healthy airflow. Foods needed to control inflammation also benefit the rest of the body, such as the brain and the heart. Diets should be high in fruits and vegetables, preferably organic. Read labels and avoid high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils, which are added to many processed foods and disrupt natural systems in the body.

Milk and dairy products in general produce mucus. By avoiding milk, patients often find they are less congested, which can help with symptoms of chronic bronchitis.

Beverage consumption should focus on water and green tea. Green tea contains many antioxidants, a category of vitamins thought to be helpful in preventing or controlling damage to the lung tissue [Source: Rahman].