I’ll never forget the day I was diagnosed with a terminal illness. After months of shortness of breath, a dry, chronic cough, and unusual fatigue, I finally sought an urgent care physician’s opinion about why my lungs were being so problematic.
I’d tried multiple antibiotics, inhalers, and steroids to relieve symptoms of what I thought was a stubborn cold. I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) a little over three years ago, and I’ve been learning to live with it ever since.
Most physicians consider it rare that a young adult is diagnosed with IPF. However, I am meeting many young adults in various online communities who are also living with this life-threatening lung disease, so I wouldn’t consider it as rare as people might think.
I was diagnosed at 28, and I vividly remember my doctors telling me they were unsure about how this disease would progress. They said it might be slow and have very little impact on my daily life, or things could change rapidly for me. Regardless of how this disease progressed, I would have a role in taking steps to protect my lungs from things that might exacerbate the fibrosis.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve become very aware of things that might affect my breathing or cause further damage to my lungs. I avoid secondhand smoke at all costs, even if it means waiting in my car until someone finishes a cigarette and being late to a meeting.
I also opt to wear a mask in environments where germs could be passed around, such as an office space or airplane. If I know others are sick, I will cancel social plans altogether. The chance of a respiratory virus causing damage to my lungs is just too great, and I’m not willing to risk it.
I’ve also made changes in the household products I use. I didn’t know how many airborne hazards can damage lungs that are already compromised from an interstitial lung disease (ILD), such as IPF. Inhaling toxins can trigger a chronic cough or cause an acute exacerbation, which almost certainly will result in a loss of some lung function.
While it may not be realistic to avoid the following hazards at all times, eliminating them from your home gradually or switching to a natural product may help maintain your lung function.
Did you know these household products can be hazardous to your lungs?
- Candles and essential oils: There is a lot of buzz about the use of essential oils for various ailments. While I enjoy the scent of various oils myself, I can’t help but remain skeptical about their health benefits. If you choose to diffuse oils, I’d highly encourage you to ensure they are as pure as possible. I no longer choose to scent my home with candles due to the danger of having fire near supplemental oxygen and because of the chemicals that are released into the air while the candle burns.
- Cat litter: The dust that cat litter emits when I empty my cat’s litter bin is enough to trigger a terrible cough. If I could avoid this I would, but it’s a task that needs to be done. Cat urine can also be very potent and I find the smell very difficult to be around. When I handle the litter bin, I wear my Vogmask and have it tightly secured around my nose and mouth. Quick tip: A PF Forums member shared with me that there are dustless cat litter options!
- Bathroom mold and cleaners: It is important for patients with IPF to avoid mold at all costs. Oftentimes, it can cause an ILD to develop. Even those with healthy lungs should avoid exposure to mold or harsh bathroom cleaners.
- Dryer lint and dust: Unsurprisingly, dust and lint particles are small enough to be inhaled, which can irritate the lungs, often triggering a cough or difficulty breathing. When cleaning your home, take precautions to avoid inhaling these small particles.
Do you know of any other household chores or products that cause you difficulty breathing or are considered hazardous to your lungs?
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.