Looking after your lungs is important for everyone but especially for people with CGD.
People with CGD are more prone to infection and inflammation than most other people, including lung infections. Reducing the likelihood of infection and inflammation in general is crucial for people affected by CGD. And this is especially true for this vital organ.
You can also read our FAQs about lung problems.
How the lungs work
The lungs lie on either side of the heart, inside your chest. Each lung is divided into sections, called lobes - the left has two and the right lung has three. The tissue inside the lungs looks a bit like a sponge. It is really a mass of tiny air tubes, which end in special air sacs called alveoli. These sacs are covered in tiny blood vessels, called capillaries.
Every time you breathe in, air is drawn through your nose and mouth, into the lungs. The lungs then transfer the oxygen from the air you breathe in into the blood stream, where red blood cells carry it all around the body. Oxygen is needed to make sure all the cells that make up the body’s tissues stay alive and carry out their functions normally.
Why are healthy lungs important in CGD?
Repeated chest infections and inflammation can lead to scarring inside the lungs. Although scar tissue plays an important tole in other parts of the body, helping to heal and protect damaged areas, it isn't good when it forms in the lungs. It stops them working properly and doing the job they're supposed to do – getting oxygen into the blood to be transported around the body.
Once lungs have become scarred, damage is hard to undo and will have a long-term effect on how well they work. It causes breathing problems which can make you short of breath and energy and limit what you can do.
When you have CGD, it is important to try and keep infections at bay as much as you can. If you do get an infection, you should get it sorted out quickly to avoid long-term consequences, such as long damage. This is why it is so important to keep your lungs in the best possible health.
Looking after your lungs
The best way to look after your lungs is to prevent infection. Taking your daily preventative medication – co-trimoxazole and itraconazole – is the best way to reduce the number and seriousness of infections.
Be alert to the signs of a chest infection
Being aware of the signs of infection helps you recognise it early so it can be treated more quickly. This can stop the infection becoming more serious and reduce longer-term damage to the lungs. It also means you will be back on your feet quicker.
What starts off as a cold and cough can develop into a chest infection. If you have a persistent cough for more than two days, see your doctor and ask them to listen to your chest. If you take antibiotics for a cough/chest infection and aren’t better when the antibiotics have run out, go back to your doctor. If in doubt, call your CGD nurse.
Have a flu jab every year
Although people with CGD have a normal system to fight off viruses, the influenza – or flu – virus can sometimes lead to a nasty chest infection, which could mean you need to be admitted to hospital. It's sensible to get a jab every year to avoid getting the flu.
Smoking lowers your immunity and damages your lungs. So if you smoke you are likely to get more infections – particularly chest infections – and could develop long-term problems with your chest and breathing. If you need to give up smoking there is lots of help on hand. The NHS Smoking Helpline 0800 169 0169 and website www.givingupsmoking.co.uk are very useful resources.
Your hospital, clinic or GP can also put you in touch with a specially trained advisor who can give you tailor-made advice on how to give up. It's never too late to stop. The sooner you do, the less damage you will cause to your lungs. Even cutting down will help your chest and make it easier to give up in the future.
Don't smoke around children
Second-hand cigarette smoke can also be harmful. So it is important not to smoke around children, especially those with CGD. Research shows that children who live in a non-smoking household are less likely to take up the habit themselves.
Take regular exercise. This helps to keep you fit, boosts your lung function and your immune system. Exercise also releases natural endorphins – chemicals in the brain that increase your sense of well-being.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
• Don't overcomplicate it. Exercise doesn't mean you have to do anything heroic and or pay expensive gym fees. Walking down the road to the shops or taking the dog for a walk counts as exercise.
• Get kids active. Children need to take regular exercise. You may think that children are always active but sometimes computer games and DVDs can be more tempting than getting out and about. Suggest a cycle ride or swim with family or friends as a way to encourage exercise. Exercise should be fun and not feel like a chore
• Build it up. Exercise should be regular and adjusted to suit you. Don't aim to do too much too often or you will either feel exhausted or find that you can't keep up with your exercise plan. A short walk each day or a gentle exercise DVD at home may be right for you.
• Do a little, often. Many people with CGD tire more easily and have lower energy levels than other people. Take exercise gently and do a little, often.
• Seek proper advice. If you have breathing or heart problems, take advice from your nurse or doctor before you start exercising. You may benefit from seeing a physiotherapist who can develop an appropriate exercise regime to target specific problems and help you keep your lungs at their best.
Get some help
If you’ve had a lot of chest infections, chest or breathing problems, it's worth talking to your doctor about seeing a lung specialist. Many hospitals have a respiratory nurse specialist attached to their chest clinics. The nurse specialist will be able to make sure you get the help and support you need. They can advise you about how to look after your lungs and small lifestyle changes that can make day-to-day life easier.
Reviewed by our Medical Advisory Panel (August 2012)