You take in millions of breaths each year. In each breath, the lungs take in oxygen from the air to provide it to the organs in the body and in return removes carbon dioxide, a waste gas the human body does not need.
With every breath the lungs also prevent unwanted germs and foreign bodies such as pollutants from getting into the body. The airways produce a mucus that unwanted germs stick to and the tiny hairs known as the cilia that coat the airways sweep the mucus away from the lungs and towards the throat. Most of the time this mucus is swallowed without even realising. All functions of the lungs happen without the mind consciously thinking about it and so when lungs are doing their job well, it's easy to take healthy lungs for granted. Often people don't think about their lung health until it becomes a problem.
According to the British Lung Foundation (BLF), lung conditions affect 1 in 5 people in the UK, with lung diseases being responsible for over 6.1 million hospital bed-days each year. This emphasises how respiratory illnesses are a major public health concern and so it's important to make sure lung health is a priority across the UK.
The BLF is a charity that strives to look after the nations lungs by raising awareness about lung disease, the dangers that cause it, how to look after the lungs and providing vital research. From 17th June -23rd June 2019, the BLF is hosting their annual awareness event 'Love your Lungs' to focus on lung health and promote a greater understanding of lung disease.
What is lung disease and what causes it?
Lung disease refers to a wide range of conditions that affect the lungs. Examples which are widely known by the public are asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). There are many causes of lung disease, with smoking being the obvious factor in causing life threatening respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer and COPD. The less well-known causes of lung disease such as exposure to asbestos is a leading factor in causing lung fibrosis and mesothelioma. Other lung diseases such as pneumonia can be caused by infections and cystic fibrosis has a hereditary cause. Learn more about lung disease and the different types here!
Most lung conditions can be life threatening or have a debilitating impact on quality of life. This could mean even daily tasks such as walking outside to hang the washing out, or having a shower can be difficult due to breathlessness. This makes early detection and management of conditions extremely important.
Take a breath test!
The BLF has developed an online breath test (based on Medical Research Council breathlessness scale) that consists of a short series of simple questions (takes approx. 5 minutes) which can help people decide whether they should see their GP about their breathlessness.
Many people have taken action as a result of this test.
It's easy to complete and can be accessed here!
How can pharmacy teams help?
Community pharmacy teams, especially those in Healthy Living pharmacies deliver patient-centred care and healthy lifestyle advice and so play a leading role in helping people with lung conditions. Pharmacy teams can adopt the Making Every Contact Count initiative and take all opportunities to speak to patients about their lung health. This could be when asked for advice on over-the-counter cough medicines or when undertaking a medicine use review (MUR). It's important to remind patients that being physically active and eating healthily can improve their condition. A common misconception is that patient's may think they are unable to exercise when they have a problem that causes them to be breathless - however, keeping active can actually improve their quality of life.
The timely and appropriate advice can lead to patients engaging with other supportive pharmacy services, for example, having a flu vaccine or taking part in a Stop Smoking service.
Some pharmacies can also offer carbon monoxide, COPD or lung age testing too.
Pharmacists and pharmacy teams are also trained in knowing when to refer patients to other healthcare professionals. Click here for symptoms of lung cancer that require urgent referral.
The BLF is supporting community pharmacies and have produced two guides that can help pharmacy teams ask patients the right questions and deliver clear messages to support better medicines understanding and healthy lifestyle messages.
The main aspect is to encourage patients to talk about their breathlessness, and to not just accept that symptoms such as persistent coughing, wheezing or breathlessness are simply a sign of getting older. The sooner these symptoms are addressed, the better the health outcome.
What to do now - resources & information for pharmacies from BLF website:
1) Set up a Health Campaign in the pharmacy!
2) Know where to signpost individuals to local groups - Breathe Easy groups, exercise classes, pulmonary fibrosis and singing groups
3) Tell everyone about the online breath test! Talk about it with loved ones and patients! Share it on social media!
4) Put up a poster for your local community to see!
5) Remember to encourage individuals to visit their GP if needed
Join their web community:- https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/web-community
Spread the word and get involved! - https://www.blf.org.uk/take-action/campaign/loveyourlungsweek/get-involved
Lena is our most recently qualified member of the Professional Development team. She is a practising Community Pharmacist in South Wales where she has been Pharmacy Manager of three different pharmacies within the same company. Lena has had a passion for people development and training throughout her career.