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Chronic Lung Disease in Kentucky

By Dr. Don Hayes

Kentucky ranks fourth nationwide in chronic lower respiratory disease, according to state health profiles recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The most prevalent chronic lower respiratory diseases include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, chronic bronchitis and smoking-related disorders. Also included in this category are less common chronic lung disorders such as cystic fibrosis. 

Kentucky's high prevalence of smoking is a major contributing factor, with cigarette smoke accounting for more than 80 percent of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Obesity and lack of exercise are also factors contributing to our state's high ranking in this area. 

Smoking alters the normal function and natural immunity of the lungs, placing smokers at enormous risk for development of chronic lung disease and infections. As people age, part of the natural aging process includes the slow decrease in lung function. Smoking accelerates that process significantly in all people, including those with underlying lung disease.

Workplace environment is another contributing factor to Kentucky’s high rate of chronic lower respiratory. Exposure to certain types of occupational dust -- including coal and rock in the mining industries and sawdust in the timber industry -- are related to lung problems for certain occupations in Kentucky. 

Poor nutrition, combined with lack of exercise, poor hygiene and an unclean living environment, can contribute to respiratory diseases. The lack of health care, or not seeing a physician regularly, may be another factor.

The prevention of chronic lower respiratory diseases involves lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking, avoiding secondhand smoke exposure, losing weight, exercising and avoiding exposure to lung irritants (for example, wearing masks at work for certain jobs). Regular checkups by a primary physician are important to identify problems early so they can be treated. If lifestyle changes and treatment by a primary physician do not help, an evaluation by a pulmonary specialist may be needed.

An important thing to remember is that being informed about your own health and knowing what to do is imperative for lifelong health.

Dr. Don Hayes Jr. is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, a Pediatric Pulmonologist at Kentucky Children's Hospital, and an Adult Pulmonologist at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital.