According to the Arthritis Foundation, almost ten percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) will also develop interstitial lung disease (ILD), or scarring of lung tissues. In addition, people living with RA are at an increased risk of developing these lung problems:
- bronchiectasis (damage to the airways)
- bronchiolitis obliterates (inflammation in small bronchial tubes)
- pleural effusion (a buildup of fluid between the lung and chest wall)
- pleurisy (fluid outside of the lung)
- pulmonary fibrosis (scarring)
- pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs)
- pulmonary nodules (small growths in the lungs)
In some cases, RA can even affect the vocal cords, causing hoarseness or shortness of breath. Here are some tips from Everyday Health that may help you maintain your lung health, while living with RA:
- Get early treatment for your RA
- Don’t smoke, and avoid second-hand smoke. The Arthritis Foundation states that people with RA who smoke are more apt to develop ILD.
- Limit exposure to harmful inhalants, such as pesticides, airborne chemicals, and air pollution
- Get the flu and pneumonia vaccines, especially if you are a RA patient on immunosuppressive medication as you will be more susceptible to infection.
- Regular exercise will provide general health benefits that will improve your lung and RA health
- Take the time to understand the side effects of medications that you are taking for your RA. If you feel that your medications are affecting your lungs, or you are concerned about other irregularities to your health, talk to your healthcare provider.
- If you are experiencing shortness of breath or dry cough, consult with your doctor to make sure you do not have an infection.
- Have a good support system of friends, family, and healthcare professionals – these people can help you set and maintain exercise and smoking cessation goals.
The Government of Canada identified ways to keep your lungs healthy, including:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water to reduce your risk of getting sick. Eighty-per-cent of common infectious respiratory diseases like colds and flu are spread through the hands. Avoid using antibacterial soaps and cleaners as it can lead to antibiotic resistance. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you are unable to find soap and water.
- Do your part to keep the air clean. Even low levels of air pollution can cause health problems and children, seniors, and people living with chronic diseases have a higher risk of getting sick from air pollution. Be aware of your local Air Quality Index – stay indoor when outdoor air pollution is high. Below is an excerpt from the site that states how you can keep the air clean indoors and out:
- Don’t let your car engine idle and avoid open-air burning.
- Don’t use pesticides and other chemicals on your lawn and garden.
- Use public transit.
- Support laws that aim to improve air quality.
- Control moisture in your home: For example, use exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens to vent moisture to the outside. Keep indoor humidity levels between 30% and 50% relative humidity.
- Maintain home appliances: Have major appliances such as furnaces, heat pumps and central air conditioners inspected and cleaned regularly by a professional.
- Clean surfaces: Keep moist surfaces such as bathtubs, shower stalls, and kitchen counters clean and dry.
- Control dust (especially if you’re allergic to animal dander and mites): Dust mites thrive in mattresses, sofas, stuffed chairs and bedding. Always wash bedding in hot water (at least 54.5 °C or 130 °F) to kill dust mites. Keep carpets clean and dry.
- Ventilate: Make sure you’re getting lots of fresh, clean air into your home. Open your windows when cleaning, painting, installing new carpet or doing other household projects.
- Know your lung health hazards at work. Certain jobs like construction and mining are high risk jobs. People in these jobs are at a higher risk for lung diseases and lung cancer, asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Wear protective clothing and masks if you are constantly exposed to dust, asbestos or chemicals. Ensure you ventilate work areas.