10 Tips and 20 Foods that may Help Recover Lung Health

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Lung health recovery can take time after respiratory illness.

Are you, your clients, or or your loved one struggling with weakness or chronic coughing after recovering from the flu or COVID? Even after your infection is gone and you are declared ‘recovered’, your symptoms can continue. I have talked with many coworkers, friends, and I myself have continued to experience significant symptoms long after having Covid this year. I have had a long recovery, and wanted to share the things that have helped me. There are many things we can do to maximize our lung health and assist our bodies in recovery! 

Always consult your physician or health care team for your personal needs (see the medical disclaimer-this information is for educational purposes only), but here are some tips that may be helpful with general recovery:

Things you may need to avoid to encourage respiratory health:

  1. Allergens that stimulate your histamine response may aggravate your cough (pets, grass, trees).
  2. Air born irritants may stimulate a coughing response if your airway is overly sensitive (buildings under construction, yard work, smoke, dust, cold air).
  3. Lying flat to sleep may be difficult for a while- use a wedge or a few pillows to raise your upper body in bed. Protect your neck by trying to keep your spine in good alignment.
  4. Minimize or adjust activities that cause you to lean over (sit to put on shoes and bring your foot to your opposite knee, sit down to put the leash on your dog).
  5. Pushing yourself too hard with exercise may aggravate your lungs and cause extended coughing. Progress your work outs slowly and include breathing exercises in your activities.

Things you may need to adjust to encourage lung recovery:

  1. Break up difficult tasks into multiple segments and spread them through the day.
  2. Alternate a difficult task with an easy task.
  3. Take rest breaks when you need them. Make it a priority to get a good nights sleep.
  4. Plan ahead to limit stress and rushing, which depletes energy.
  5. You may need to avoid or wear a mask while vacuuming, dusting or doing yard work.

Things you may want to add to support your lung health:

SUPPORT YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM:

Alongside medication, things we eat and drink can help our recovery! Many fruits and vegetables will help strengthen your immune system to help you regain your health and energy. Antioxidants, prebiotics, probiotics, vitamins and minerals will all contribute to fighting infection, healing tissues, and restoring your energy. They can also aid with thinning mucus, and encouraging your body to expectorate the mucus. Amazingly enough, food and drink can also help with relaxing and opening your airways, and decreasing irritation in your lungs.

Hydration is imperative for your body to function well. Water is key in fighting off and recovering from a respiratory infection! If you dislike plain water, try adding fruit wedges- oranges, limes, lemon, honey, or cucumbers and berries.

KEEP YOUR MUCUS THIN:

There are many food and drinks that help promote thinned mucus which will aid in recovery from a respiratory infection. Water, herbal teas, chicken broth (be cautious of the sodium), onions, garlic, peppers (The Healthy, 2022), citrus, lemon, honey, pineapple (Healthline, 2022), berries, winter squash, broccoli, leafy greens, and tomatoes. These were some of my favorites which I ate or juiced regularly, and found extremely helpful in my recovery this winter!

As well as thinning your mucus, many of these foods may also encourage your body to expectorate it!

ENCOURAGE OPEN AIRWAYS:

If you feel your chest tighten from allergies, congestion, or irritants, there are things you can do, eat, and drink to promote a reduction of the tightness. Carefully breath in steam from a pan of water or in the shower (Healthline, 2022). Hydrate the air with a humidifier, and use a menthol rub. Run a diffuser with quality essential oils that will help open airways: peppermint, eucalyptus, and rosemary are popular for improving congestion and reducing irritation.

Drink warm beverages- many herbal teas (Healthline, 2022) with ginger (ginger lemon is my favorite), peppermint, and eucalyptus, as well as green tea and black tea contribute to relaxation of airways. Coffee even has short term effect of relaxing airways. Take precaution with caffeine, however, as it is known to contribute to dehydration, which can thicken your mucus. Mullein tea or drops (Web MD, 2022) can help promote lung health and soothe an irritated passageway. I have found great relief with them!

Eat foods that support your lungs opening and reducing irritation: beets, swiss chard (Healthline, 2022), ginger, cayanne pepper, garlic (Center for Respiratory Health, 2021), tomato products, and dark chocolate.

Sometimes our coughing can become reactive and incessant, and it can be difficult to stop. Taking a drink, chewing on gum, sucking cough drops or candy can help ease the reflex to cough, and help calm down the passageway. You may want to consider sugar free options to protect your dental health!

A few more thoughts on lung health and recovery:

There are foods and over the counter products out there than can interfere with your medications or that may have side effects. If in doubt check with your physician or pharmacist, and read labels throughly!

Use your common sense, and if you are not improving, or if your symptoms are getting worse, follow up with your physician. My Nurse Practitioner introduced me to the Mullein drops, and it really helped speed up my recovery!

A pulse oximeter can help you assess and monitor your oxygen saturation:

Clinicians: want a helpful list with patient education for respiratory health? Check out my PREMIUM RESOURCES PAGE, where you can download a few printable freebies, and find an inexpensive pass to over 50 educational handouts for senior care!

You may also want to check out these posts:

Better Breathing

Evidence Based Information on Pulmonary Rehabilitation

I would love to hear what you think! Are there any other foods or instructions you would recommend? Sign up for senior health emails, and a few freebies for health organization!

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