Lung health


Don't Guess, Know the Symptoms

It’s not often that we stop to think about our breathing, it’s just something we do. Research shows that almost half (46%) of all Australians rarely or never think about their lung health. Despite this, almost two-thirds of Australians (68%) reported that they have experienced at least one lung related health issue.

Symptoms of lung disease

Symptoms of lung disease tend to creep up slowly and people often put the symptoms down to aging or lack of fitness. This leads to many automatically adjusting their daily activities to accommodate or reduce their symptoms rather than getting help.

Knowing the early warning signs of lung disease can help you receive treatment before the disease becomes serious or even life-threatening. If you experience any of the following warning signs, make an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

  • Have a new, persistent or changed cough
  • Cough up mucus, phlegm or blood
  • Get breathless more easily than others your age
  • Experience chest tightness or wheeze
  • Have frequent chest infections
  • Experience chest pain, fatigue
  • Experience sudden weight loss.

Tips to look after your lungs

1. Make your life a smoke-free zone by quitting smoking and/or reducing your exposure to second-hand smoke.

2. Wear appropriate protective equipment if you work in environments that expose you to the inhalation of dust, gas, fumes or chemicals.

3. Protect yourself from influenza and pneumonia by having the vaccinations.

4. Exercise regularly and have a healthy diet.

5. Practice good hand hygiene to minimise the spread of germs.

How your lungs work

Every part of your body needs oxygen from the air you breathe in order to survive. The delicate structure of the lungs is beautifully adapted to carry out the complex business of breathing and, transferring oxygen to the rest of the body. At the same time, the lungs help protect the body from outside attack.

Most of the time we are not even aware that our lungs are working, but they can be damaged in many ways and become less efficient at taking oxygen from the air and getting rid of waste carbon dioxide.

What is lung disease?

Anyone can get lung disease. It affects men, women, children, smokers, ex-smokers and never smokers. There are over 30 different types of lung disease, all of which have a debilitating and often fatal impact on those affected.

Lung disease is any problem in the lungs that prevents the lungs from working properly. There are three main types of lung disease, including:

  • Airway diseases: These diseases, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), affect the airways that carry oxygen and other gases into and out of the lungs. They usually cause a narrowing or blockage of the airways.
  • Lung tissue diseases: These diseases, such as Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), affect the structure of the lung tissue. Scarring or inflammation of the tissue makes the lungs unable to expand fully (restrictive lung disease). This makes it hard for the lungs to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.
  • Lung circulation diseases: These diseases, such as Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH), affect the blood vessels in the lungs. They are caused by clotting, scarring, or inflammation of the blood vessels. They affect the ability of the lungs to take up oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

Lung Foundation Australia works across all areas of lung disease, with a particular focus on the conditions outlined below. For more information about the different types of lung disease, click here.

Living with a lung disease?

Shortness of breath is one of the most common challenges for people living with a lung disease. Many people find using a battery-operated fan can help control breathlessness, and research has shown that a cool draft of air from a hand-held fan can be very effective in reducing symptoms.

How to use a hand-held fan

Follow the three steps below and you should start to feel a benefit in a few minutes:

  1. Hold the fan about 15 centimetres from your face so you can feel the air on your top lip.
  2. Slowly move the fan from side-to-side so the breeze covers the bottom half of your face.
  3. Remember to use your controlled breathing techniques and try and relax your shoulders. To find out more about controlled breathing techniques talk to your health professional.

You can use your fan as often and for as long as you like. Keep it handy when at home and also take it with you when you go out. You may find it helpful to use your fan if you stop for a ‘breather’ after doing an activity that makes you breathless, such as walking, climbing stairs or for sudden breathlessness when you are still.

Lung conditions

There are over 30 different types of lung disease. 

Anyone can get lung disease. It affects men, women and children, all who are equally worthy of care and support.

Don’t guess this winter, know the symptoms. Take 2 minutes to check in with your lungs.