Anti aging guide

Lungs Related-Disease and Old Age



Do the lungs alter with age and how can bronchitis and pneumonia be avoided?

Considering that during our lifetimes we breathe in and out some 300 million liters of air, the lungs of even the remotest country dweller come into contact with a great deal of pollution, so that differentiating between environmental damage and true age change is almost meaningless. The area of the gas-exchange surface reaches about 80 square meters in our 20s and tends to shrink a little to perhaps 70 square meters at age 70. The lungs become stiffer, and so does the chest wall, causing us to use our diaphragms rather more than our thoracic muscles for breathing as we grow older. The rate and quantity of air we can blow out into a spirometer or a peak-flow meter also decline, and there is a slight reduction in the amount of oxygen carried in the blood.

Perhaps none of these physiological changes is particularly harmful, but one that probably is important is the decline in the defense system in the air passages. Particles of dust and bacteria become trapped in mucus in the bronchi and are swept back to the trachea by the beating action of the tiny hairs which project from the lining. Eventually, the mucus and the trapped matter is coughed up. This protective mechanism does seem to become less efficient in old people, rendering them more liable to lung infections.

The most important step anyone can take to preserve the health of the lungs is to stop smoking and avoid the company of those who do smoke, and this remains highly advisable at any age. Other preventive measures can be taken. For example, when there is an epidemic of influenza, it is prudent to minimize the risk of contact with it by avoiding crowded public places. It is also recommended that people aged over 65 should seek vaccination against influenza in the early autumn each year. This is especially important for those at special risk on account of diabetes, chronic bronchitis, or asthma, or those living in communal establishments. There is also a vaccine available against the commonest form of pneumonia and these high-risk subjects would be well advised to ask their doctors about the benefits of receiving it, as perhaps should everyone over 65.

Posted by Carol Hudgens - May 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm