All You Need Is The Air You Breathe

If you are the average person, in moderate to good health, I’ll bet you don’t think much about the act of breathing. Unless you have a cold or illness, breathing happens naturally. If your lungs are compromised, all you need is the air that you breathe.

The average person takes

28,880 breaths per day

365 days per year

for a total of


breaths per year.

I’ve had asthma most of my life, so for me, breathing hasn’t been entirely taken for granted. But my asthma is very mild so that I don’t think about it a whole lot. My husband, who is my soul mate in oh-so-many ways, also has asthma. We avoid triggers (irritants like second-hand smoke and strong perfumes). We strive to stay healthy. For the most part, that’s worked for us and neither of us has spent a lot of time thinking about our breathing or our lungs. But over the past three years breathing comfortably has become something we no longer take for granted. Especially not since he was diagnosed with COPD.


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD, affects more than 32 million people in the United States alone. It is the third leading cause of death. And 80 – 90% of those cases are caused by smoking.

To understand COPD, it helps to understand how your lungs work.

image of the biological parts of the lung. Parts you don't think about until damaged lungs force you to consider the air that you breathe.
image courtesy wikimedia commons

When you breathe in, air travels through your mouth and nose, down a tube in your throat called your trachea. The trachea divides into two main bronchi, one leading to each lung. Inside the lung, the bronchi branch off as in the illustration above. Each of the bronchi branch into smaller tubes called bronchioles. These tubes end in bunches of little tiny balloon-like structures called alveoli. The tiny blood vessels pass through the alveoli. When air fills the little sacs, the blood vessels pick up oxygen to carry to the rest of your body. In COPD the air sacs are damaged or blocked which means your brain and body cannot get as much oxygen.

Types of COPD

There are two forms of COPD: chronic bronchitis which involves a chronic cough and excess mucus production and emphysema which involves damage to the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs. Many people diagnosed with COPD have both, though one may be more severe than the other.


People with COPD have difficulty expelling air from their lungs, they feel breathless. Wheezing, coughing, a feeling of tightness in their chest and chronic fatigue are also symptoms of COPD.

These symptoms develop slowly over time and usually are not diagnosed as COPD until middle-age or later. Because the disease is so slow to develop, many people may have it and not know it.


It is diagnosed by a combination of the symptoms you report to your physician, your medical history, blood tests, chest x-rays, pulmonary function tests, CT scans, and/ or procedures such as bronchoscopy, bronchi alveolar lavage, and/or lung biopsy.


There is no cure for COPD. There is no way to repair the damage to your lungs, to regrow your alveoli. The disease progresses with time making it more and more difficult to engage in normal activities. However early diagnosis, treatments and lifestyle changes can help you stay active and slow the progress of the disease.

Staggering information, isn’t it?

My husband stopped smoking years more than thirty years ago. Yet, the damage to his lungs was there, getting worse in tiny increments of time until his symptoms began to interfere with his activities. It took time for us to realize a problem existed and more time for the doctors to decide upon a diagnosis.

There are good things about this diagnosis. Knowledge is power. We know what the problem is and what we can do to make it better. The air that you breathe is a phrase that has new meaning for us. We are vigilant about only visiting areas with air that won’t further irritate his lungs. And new, improved medications are being developed as we speak.

We have made, and are working on, lifestyle changes. He’s receiving good medical care and responding to treatment. He does not need extra oxygen.

He has good days and bad. On bad days even tying his shoes can leave him short of breath and exhausted. Bad days are debilitating for him, painful for me to watch, and they frighten us both. I don’t share this with you to get your sympathy or your pity. I share this for two reasons.


If you think you or a loved one may have COPD, don’t wait, see a medical professional for diagnosis and treatment. The sooner you’re diagnosed and begin treatment, the more you can slow the progress of this disease.

If you are still smoking and think this won’t happen to you. Think again. There is no way to tell what damage has been done to your lungs until the damage causes symptoms. Stop smoking. Now. Your alveoli are precious. Don’t waste them.

For additional information about COPD, check out:

The American Lung Association


The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

#2. Carpe Diem

Always remember Carpe Diem. Seize the day. You never know how many days are on your life calendar. So make sure to

Do something you love every day.

Be present with someone you love every day.

Seize an opportunity to laugh, every day.

Appreciate the time and place you are at, every day.

bird soaring in the air in this image doesn't think about breathing. The average person doesn't think about the act of breathing. If your lungs are compromised, you are all about the air that you breathe.
image courtesy of Gurumustuk Singh via flickr commons

Title of this post adapted from the hit ballad, The Air That I Breathe, written by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood, and recorded by The Hollies in 1974.

I appreciate your support and your comments so very much.
Please, no pity or sympathy.
Do share how you seized the day today or how you will tomorrow.  I love to hear from you.


  1. Thanks for sharing this important info. COPD took my mother-in-law ten years ago. She couldn’t even walk across the room without gasping for breath. She chose to keep smoking, but it can be managed.

    1. Smoking is a difficult addiction or habit to break. I feel for people who struggle with it. Thank you for sharing about your mother-in-law.

  2. Thank you for explaining what COPD is, Lynette. I’ve heard of it, but never looked into it. I’ve known a lot of people with emphysema, but I didn’t know it was a form of COPD. You’re so right about knowledge is power. I’m glad your husband is responding to the treatment, and I hope they come up with better treatments ASAP so his bad days become less and less frequent and so the disease can be stopped in its tracks. I know how worrying about loved ones takes a toll on us.

    I can’t say I’ve seized this day, but I’m making a little progress here and there and I’m thankful for this day and actually for every breath. I realize that every breath is a gift from God and I try to remember not to take it for granted. Take care!

    1. Lynn, thank you for stopping by. Hey girl, sometimes being thankful for the day and for every breath IS seizing the day. I know you have a lot on your plate. And new grandbabies, too. How wonderful. Thanks so much for the good wishes. We definitely will take good wishes and prayer support.

  3. Many thanks for the info, Lynette! My hubs is 25+ diabetic and just retired, so we are seizing the days, too. No question that each day becomes more precious as we move into the phase of life with more health challenges.

    1. Pauline, you are right about how precious the days become. Congratulations to your hubs on his retirement and for managing his diabetes for so long.

  4. Smoking is definitely an addiction and it is quite scary how damage done decades ago can come back to haunt us.

    I like your attitude, Lynette. We all only have so many days allotted to us so carpe diem, indeed!

    1. Yes, it is scary how damage done so long ago can come back. Especially since we thought that stopping smoking could reverse the damage. Unfortunately you have only as many alveoli as you’ll ever have by the age of 5 and they can’t repair themselves and we’ve no known way to repair or replace them.

      Carpe Diem. Especially on this Fourth of July in the US. Hope you’re having a happy and safe holiday, Kass. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Wow Lynette, this is great information. I appreciate they way you broke it all down so we could understand. You and hubby have dealt with this for a while, so you have a head start on us. Can’t imagine having to gasp for air like that. It makes me think of someone who may be drowning and cannot take in oxygen. Panic comes to mind. So you both are walking around stuck in fright and flight. Very stressful. And you know I know about stress. That said, I grew up with two smokers. As a child, I didn’t take in deep breathes because of the smoke in the room. One day, not so long ago, a doctor pointed out to me that I wasn’t breathing properly. I wasn’t taking deep breathes in order to take in enough oxygen. I never noticed it before. So now, I have to make a conscious effort to think about it everyday. For most of us, we take each breath for granted and never give it a second thought. That is until we’re faced with something as serious as what your DH is experiencing, or any life altering/threatening disease. But you’re a team player Lynette. So this effects you just as much girl. Thank you for the reminder. We each need to appreciate each and every day! 🙂

    1. Oh, my gosh, Karen! I never thought about how a child might deliberately not take deep breaths when living with smokers, and how that could become lifetime habit. Wow.

      Yes, dear friend, I know you understand how important it is to appreciate each and every day. I hope you, too, are having a wonderful holiday with your hubby and family. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Hi, Lynette,
    I want your husband to take good care of himself and keep producing your excellent blog illustrations. As for seizing the day, I’m getting better at it. Right now, I’m doing something I love: reading a friend’s blog post.

    1. I’ll tell him, Pat. As for how you’re seizing the day – you made me smile. Thank you, my friend.

  7. Wow, Lynette. You manage to give a great seminar and a great post at the same time. Knowing about something is important; taking a message away is even more so. I “carpe’d” the diem 3 years ago by walking away from my teaching job and moving to this island. HUGE cut in pay…the money kind. HUGE raise in the other kind: pure gratitude and happiness on a daily basis. i sure get your message. Thanks for reminding everyone. I’ll keep y’all in my thoughts.

    1. It’s my turn to say, Wow. You did carpe diem in a big way! Congratulations. That’s a huge step, so scary to take but so worth it. I love that you did that. Thanks so much for sharing, and for your kind thoughts.

  8. No pity I promise! But I am sending my very best wishes across the ocean and hoping you and your soul-mate find love and laughter every day.
    I hadn’t heard of COPD before either, you post is informative, and moving.

  9. My mom has COPD. Thanks for sharing–and I love your carpe diem advice. When life dips, I work hard to focus on the positive–my favorite being “seize an opportunity to laugh, every day.”

    1. Laughter is so very important. Coleen, I wish for you and your mother what Kim wished for us: love and laughter every day with many precious days to come.

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