Thursday, August 6, 2015

I Have The Lungs Of A 51 Year Old Man.

My lungs are 51 years old.

I had a routine visit with my doctor today. Chiefly, I needed to renew some medications that I take daily for asthma; I was officially diagnosed with the condition in 2005. While there, I partook in a Spirometry test. A computer measures the functionality of my lungs while I blow multiple times into a special tube. This test measures how much air I can inhale and exhale, the force with which I can blow air out, and from which areas of my lungs I can store air. Essentially, the Spirometry test measures how capable my lungs are at respiration. After compiling the results, the test then determines an "age" for the patient's lungs. As I stated above -- I have the lungs of a healthy 51 year old man.

I'm only 32 years old.

So why are my lungs twenty years older than I am? I've never smoked cigarettes or any other substance ever. Nor have I ever worked around asbestos or some other lung-damaging air particulate. My doctor explained the results to me thoroughly, as well as provided a likely culprit.

You see, my mother smoked while pregnant with me. Smoking while pregnant has definitively been linked to the development of asthma in children -- I probably dealt with the condition for years before ever being properly diagnosed. Decades of research has also indicated that a fetus will almost certainly have improperly developed lungs with a smoking mother. Strike two for me -- my lungs have nowhere near the capacity of a normal adult my age. The trauma didn't end there, though. Here comes strike three...

My mom also continued to smoke while I was a child. In fact, I can't think of a time when my mother didn't smoke while I was growing up. My father sporadically smoked off and on for many years in that same time. Being surrounded by all that second-hand smoke continued to harm my lung functionality. Imagine being trapped in a house with smokers, or being inside a sealed car with smokers. A vulnerable, developing child has little say in the matter. Spout what you will about your right to smoke, but harming your child in the process of slowly killing yourself is shortsighted and deplorable. If you learn anything from this article, it's this -- please don't smoke while pregnant, nor around your child after they are born. If you do so, you're doing irreparable harm that your child will have to deal with for the rest of their life.

So, how does all of this affect me? First, my lungs have a hard time bringing in a normal amount of air. Imagine what a balloon looks like when it's full of air -- robust, tight and ready to pop. Now, imagine what a balloon looks like when it's only half full with air -- limp, deflated and loose. That's what my lungs are like. Physically, my lungs are healthy looking (no black lung), but they're simple not able to fill up like a normal pair. Why? Because the alveoli in my lungs are either damaged or undeveloped.

Alveoli are the branching cavities in the lungs where the body's gas exchange takes place. They act as little portals that deliver oxygen into the blood stream and take out carbon dioxide. The Spirometry test determined that my alveoli, depending on their various locations and size, operate at 25-50% of their normal capacity for my age. To put it in the simplest of analogies -- for every one breath you will take, I have to take between two and four.

My long-term outlook isn't grim -- I just have to be careful. Continuing to lose weight is a big step in the right direction. The less I weigh, the easier a job my lungs have at delivering oxygen into my body. I also have to avoid allergens that cause me pulmonary distress. Watching my physical exertion is also key. When my body tells me I'm tired, I have to listen and take a break.

There is good news, though. Other than my asthma and decreased lung capability, I'm a very healthy man. I have no diseases to speak of, nor do I have heart or blood pressure problems. I'm probably the fittest overweight man you'll ever know. I plan on being around for a long, long time.


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