Cigarettes are not the only cause of lung disease


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I appreciate your column, but I take exception to something you keep repeating that makes it hard on people like me. Since childhood, I have had bronchitis and asthma and I have lost count of the number of times I’ve had pneumonia. Recently I have been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

I have never smoked. My husband never smoked. When I started with a new lung specialist, he asked me about smoking twice and sounded skeptical when I told him I was never a smoker.

When you call chronic bronchitis and emphysema the “smokers’ ailment,” I get grief from people who take your word as gospel. Will you give people like me a break? — D.T.

ANSWER: Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, COPD. Chronic bronchitis is an ever-present cough due to airway irritation and airways that are filled with pus. Emphysema is dilation and destruction of air sacs — alveoli, the cellophanelike structures through which oxygen passes into the lungs and carbon dioxide exits them. Shortness of breath is its hallmark symptom.

The fact is that 90 percent of those with COPD are current or former smokers. You are a victim of numbers. Not all COPD can be traced to smoking. Dusts from grains, cotton and silica can bring on COPD. Miners often come down with it. Secondhand smoke is another cause. Frequent childhood lung infections could be the reason for some cases of COPD. And genes definitely play a role.

You get the same reaction that people with cirrhosis get. Most of the public automatically assume that alcohol is the cause of all cirrhosis. It definitely is not. I am sorry you suffer from an unfounded rush to judgment when you tell people your diagnosis. I’ll try to mention the nonsmoking causes of COPD in the future. COPD is a common illness that causes great hardships for many.


Readers can learn more about it in the booklet on this disease. To obtain a copy, write: Dr. Donohue — No. 601, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My sister tells me that a person cannot catch a cold in the winter by going outside and not wearing warm clothes, or not wearing a jacket or hat if it is raining and the temperature is in the 30s. If that is true (and I don’t believe it), how does a person catch a cold? Who is right? Me, or my sister? — R.W.

ANSWER: Viruses are the only causes of colds. Rhinoviruses are the major cause of colds, but they aren’t the only viruses. The transmission of cold viruses occurs mainly via the hands. The fingers and hands of a person with a cold invariably have a coating of virus on them. When an infected person touches the hands of someone who’s uninfected, viral transfer takes place. The uninfected then touches his nose or his eye, and the virus has found a new home. Cold weather doesn’t cause colds, even if a person goes shirtless. Nor does rain. I don’t like to get involved in these family disputes. If your sister is like my sister, she won’t let you ever forget you lost the bet.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My mom, 92, has been on antidepressants for many, many years. She takes Risperdal, Cymbalta and Abilify. She’s also on other medicines.

Four months ago, she had a scope examination of her stomach and colon. They found two polyps in her stomach and a very irritated stomach lining, which was suspected to be the source of bleeding and her anemia. Now she has lost more weight and is even weaker. We suggested a transfusion, but the doctor says it is not the answer. Any ideas where we should turn next? — J.S.

ANSWER: Your mother might feel tired and weak because of the three psychological drugs she takes. Admittedly, she takes a low dose of each, but all three of those medicines can make a person feel less than alert. The combination might be too much for a 92-year-old woman. See if one those medicines can be stopped, or if the doses of all three can be reduced.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from