Pharmacists’ role in lung health

woman experiencing breathlessness

Pharmacists can play a key role in educating people about their lungs… and keeping an eye on warning signs, write Dr Esther Lau and Professor Lisa Nissen

Breathing is important. In fact, most people take on average 23,000 breaths each day.

However, most of us probably take this for granted and do not notice these breaths – unless of course maybe when we are exercising, or huffing and puffing because we are running late for the bus.

An estimated one in 10 Australians are living with lung disease, and 50 people die each day as a result of lung disease. Unfortunately, many lung diseases remain undiagnosed and people shrug off important symptoms such as breathlessness/wheeze, productive coughs as a sign of ageing or being unfit.

More than half of Australian adults rarely or never think about the health of their lungs, so it is important for people to stop and appreciate what a good job their lungs are doing to keep them alive, and to look after their lungs before it is too late.

Some ways pharmacists can help people with looking after their lungs include:-

  • Encouraging people to stop smoking – cigarette smoking has been linked to numerous respiratory diseases, and is the single most important risk factor for COPD and lung cancer. Pipes, cigars or smoking marijuana are also not doing their lungs any favours.
  • Identify people with risk factors and complete the Lung Foundation Australia’s Lung Health Checklist, to help people monitor their lung health. It may also be useful to trigger conversations with patients that perhaps it is time to see their doctor about any symptoms they have that could be suggestive of a lung disease.
  • Some types of exercise can help with a modest improvement lung function. Cardiac fitness will make it easier for the heart to supply the rest of the body with oxygen.
  • Being aware of triggers and avoiding them were possible; e.g. outdoor air pollution. If cold dry air triggers symptoms like asthma, then a humidifier, or using a scarf or face mask to help warm the air may be helpful. Adequate personal protective equipment is necessary for workplaces that are associated with triggers e.g. dust, chemicals, fumes, diesel exhaust.
  • Vaccinations against influenza and pneumococcal are effective and useful to help prevent respiratory infections, and is particularly important in patients with pre-existing lung conditions.


November 18 is World COPD Day, so it is a good time to start these conversations about lung health with your patients, to help increase awareness of lung diseases, and to get people thinking about their lung health!

Dr Esther Lau and Professor Lisa Nissen are from the School of Clinical Sciences, Queensland University of Technology.

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