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Dublin: 7 °C Friday 22 November, 2019
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'You could have lung disease, but won't notice if your only exercise is shopping'

Most people are unable to spot the warning signs of the disease.

Image: lung health via Shutterstock

TOMORROW WILL MARK the start of Ireland’s first-ever National Lung Health Awareness Week, and if a survey released to mark it is anything to go by, people are unaware of how to spot warning signs.

The survey revealed that 57% of people did not spontaneously identify a persistent cough as a key symptom of lung disease.

Some were unaware of other symptoms such as coughing up blood (86%), chest tightness or pain (88%), persist phlegm (92%) and shortness of breath or a wheeze (38%).

Just one in five had taken a lung function test such as spirometry, which can diagnose lung disease, in the past five years.

Professor Anthony O’Regan, a consultant respiratory physician, and spokesperson for the Irish Lung Health Alliance, described lung disease as a “major problem in Ireland”, which has the third highest death rate for lung disease in Western Europe.

It’s estimated to kill more people a year than heart disease.

“We need to make much more significant strides in improving lung disease prevention, early diagnosis and improved access to specialist care.

Of course, for the public it’s important to emphasise that, in the majority of cases, lung disease is preventable.

“Unfortunately, there is a poor awareness among people about the importance of having their doctor check for lung disease and, if necessary, organise lung tests.”

The Alliance has called on the Government to develop a National Programme for Healthy Lungs.

Lar Brennan hasn’t let a diagnosis of cystic fibrosis (CF) get in the way of his career. He has battled through the condition – and a double lung transplant – to work as a fitness instructor.

He believes that keeping fit and active is key. If we’re not doing that, we might miss the warning signs of poor lung health.

“People are walking around with lung disease without realising it, because they’re not working the body enough,” Lar said.

They’re just not getting the exercise, and you won’t notice when going around doing the shopping.

“It’s also important that parents get their children as active as possible.”

He told TheJournal.ie that before his transplant, he had managed to achieve lung capacity of up to 90%.

However, after an injury, he was unable to exercise as much, and his lung capacity slowly fell back to as low as 10%.

“I was in hospital for two years. It wasn’t easy, having to watch friends pass away around you. Towards the end I probably only had a couple of weeks left to life.”

photo (3) Lar Brennan (right) before and after his transplant. Source: Lar Brennan

He is now working as fitness instructor following his lung transplant operation, but it took a lot of work to get to the level he’s at now.

“You have to really work on it to get a decent level of fitness,” Lar said, “My lung function is now around 100%, but that won’t happen without hard work.”

“Some people with CF will go out and exercise, get an infection, and get knocked back down again, feeling like all their hard work as gone down the drain.”

It’s important not to compare yourself to other people, just to progress at your own pace, but remember, if you don’t do the work, nobody else is going to do it for you.

He also praised the support his received from friends, family, and all the hospital staff who treated him.

“I’m also extremely grateful for my donor, and the gift of life they gave me.”

As part of Lung Health Awareness Week, free lung tests will provided in Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Portlaoise. Find out more here.

Read: Trinity scientists discover how to attack a bacteria that causes cystic fibrosis infections >

More: Over 90,000 homes may have ‘dangerous levels’ of radon gas… just 8% have been checked >

Column: Why is lung disease so prevalent in Ireland? >

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Nicky Ryan

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