Breathing is something most of us take for granted. But when problems arise
with our respiratory system, they can significantly impact our health and
daily life.


respiratory system

is a complex network of organs, tissues, and muscles that enables you to
inhale. It includes your:

• nose, sinuses, and mouth
• throat or pharynx
• windpipe or trachea
• bronchial tubes
• lungs
• diaphragm

A variety of factors, such as genetics, environmental pollutants, and
illnesses, can interfere with your respiratory system’s ability to function.

Causes of respiratory problems

Some respiratory problems are independent of your environment and actions.
For example, your


may make you more likely than other people to have asthma, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease, or lung cancer. Aging can also affect your
respiratory system because your

lung capacity shrinks as you get older

Inhaling foreign substances is a major cause of respiratory trouble. The
substances can be pollen, which can cause allergies; radon gas or cigarette
smoke, which can cause lung cancer; or a variety of other things, such as
dust and polluted air, e.g., wildfire smoke.

Various health conditions can also interfere with the functioning of your
respiratory system. Colds, flu, COVID-19, and pneumonia top the illness
list. Gastrointestinal problems, such as acid reflux, can cause a cough and

other respiratory symptoms

Protecting your respiratory system

While you can’t do anything about your genes or your age, there are steps
you can take to maintain or improve your respiratory health.

The most important thing you can do is

avoid smoking

or vaping. Second-hand smoke is also harmful, so try to avoid it. If you
currently smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health.
Quitting can be difficult, but it is possible with

advice and support
, both of which are


Like cigarette smoke, radon gas can
cause lung cancer, so you should either have your home tested for it or

test your home yourself

You also should reduce your exposure to air pollution by:

• Making sure your home is well-ventilated and cleaned regularly to prevent
the buildup of allergens, dust, and mold.
• Not using products that create fumes, such as strong cleaning agents.
• Making sure your gas appliances are ventilated properly.
• Not using

wood-burning fireplaces or stoves
. If you do, make sure they’re as efficient as possible and well-ventilated.
Also, use pellets or dry hardwood, which burn cleaner and more efficiently.
• Keeping a mask handy if your work exposes you to pollutants and for when
there is poor air quality.

Another way to avoid damage to your respiratory system is to avoid
respiratory diseases, such as flus and COVID-19. Getting


is the best defense against these illnesses.

Improving your respiratory system

Eating well and exercising also can directly

improve the health

of your respiratory system. Aerobic activities, such as cycling, swimming,
and dancing, can help improve your lung capacity and boost your oxygen
levels if you do them regularly. If you already have respiratory health
problems, you should consult your doctor before you begin exercising. You
also shouldn’t exercise outdoors when air pollution is high.

Some foods have

anti-inflammatory properties
, which can be helpful if you have inflamed airways. They include leafy
greens, broccoli, beans and lentils, olives, blueberries, cherries,
turmeric, dark chocolate, and green tea.

Steam, whether it’s from a hot shower or a boiling pot of water, can open
your airways and help loosen and clear mucus from your lungs.

The bottom line

Problems with your respiratory system can severely reduce your quality of
life. While genetics and age can't be changed, you can avoid harmful
substances, reduce your exposure to air pollution, and get vaccinated
against respiratory illnesses. Taking these steps will help your lungs and
other respiratory organs function properly and support your overall

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