Health Tips for Alphas
For Alphas, the most important way to prevent disease or slow disease progression is avoiding risk factors.
The biggest risk factor for lung disease is cigarette smoking. Any Alpha who smokes must stop! It is also important to avoid second-hand smoke and avoid inhaling irritants at work.
While augmentation therapy is available for Alphas with lung disease, this is only one part of the management of Alpha-1. See our page on Augmentation Therapy.
The following health tips are general guidelines, and you should discuss with your doctor how they apply in your case.
1. Personal Hygiene
Washing your hands is an effective way to avoid contracting or spreading infectious diseases.
- Use warm water to moisten your hands.
- Apply anti-bacterial soap.
- Rub hands together for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse your hands thoroughly.
- Dry your hands.
- Wash your hands after using the restroom, blowing your nose, changing diapers, before preparing meals, etc.
- If it is not possible to wash your hands, carry an antibacterial hand solution.
2. Lifestyle Changes
Smoking — This is a no-brainer. But it’s so important, we’re repeating ourselves. If you do smoke, it’s never too late to quit. Anyone who tries to quit and fails shouldn’t beat themselves up – but they shouldn’t stop trying, either. Studies show that most people who quit smoking tried and failed – maybe several times – before they managed to quit. Alphas need to stop smoking!
Avoid dust and smoke, including shaking rugs, vacuuming, sweeping and dusting. Stay away from smoke (second-hand tobacco, fireplace, etc.), construction or paint fumes, and any smelly cleaning products.
Exercise – Everyone, including all Alphas, need some exercise. Strong muscles and a body need less oxygen to perform everyday tasks, making breathing easier. Stronger secondary body muscles help to compensate for flattened diaphragm muscles.
But don’t make drastic changes in your activity level. Start out light and slow. Light physical activities include walking, strolling, swimming or slowly treading water, and bowling. Also remember your warm-up stretches before you exercise and cool-down stretches afterward.
Stress Management — You might join a yoga class, practice deep relaxation or deep breathing, call a friend, play anything you enjoy, watch a sunset, laugh or take a pottery class. Just about anything that relaxes you is a good idea. Practice relaxing daily and often. Through relaxation and slower, deeper breathing, anxiety and panic are better controlled.
Sleep Patterns — Try for 6-8 hours of sleep every night. Is your mattress comfortable? Go to bed to sleep. Watching television or working while in bed may interrupt your desire to sleep. A half hour of light reading in bed (not work-related reading!) is relaxing for many people, however. If you wake up, get out of bed and do a gentle activity until you feel tired, then return to bed. Talk with your doctor if your sleep tends to be interrupted or is not restful.
3. Avoiding Infectious Diseases
In general, avoid the following situations. Using a face mask may help in particularly high-risk environments.
- Crowds — movie theaters, stadiums, public transportation, etc.
- Children in daycare, school activities
- Physician clinics
4. Get your vaccine shots
(Pneumonia, Influenza, Hepatitis, Meningococcal, Tetanus)
Talk to your doctor about immunizations. When you visit a clinic or a doctor’s office, try to schedule an appointment time that minimizes your exposure to infected patients. If you are receiving home infusions, your home infusion nurse can give you vaccine shots with an order from your doctor.
Food plays a critical role in your ability to breathe. Foods low in carbon dioxide production make sense to an Alpha who has trouble with carbon dioxide retention. Excessive carbohydrates in the diet can theoretically create more carbon dioxide than other energy sources.
Eating a number of smaller meals rather than the usual three large meals helps to reduce shortness of breath after eating.
Food Safety & Sanitation
- Food-borne illnesses are highly preventable.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables before preparation.
- Use separate cutting boards for raw and cooked foods, and for raw meats and vegetables. Wash and rinse cutting boards after each use.
- Thoroughly cook meat and eggs before eating.
- Thaw meat in the refrigerator or microwave (cook immediately after thawing in the microwave). Do not thaw meats by setting them on the counter or in an oven.
Proteins and Amino Acids
The meat group supplies an excellent source of protein. A variety of foods are recommended: beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish and shellfish. Meats supply varying amounts of iron, zinc, and B vitamins (Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B-6, and B-12).
Choose lean meats and skinless poultry. Include two to three servings of protein per day, equivalent to 5-7 ounces per day. (A serving is equal to 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish.)
Additional excellent sources of protein are eggs, dry beans, tofu, nuts and peanut butter. Other sources of protein that approximately equal 1 ounce of meat:
- 1/2 cup cooked lentils, peas or dry beans
- 1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter or 1/3 cup nuts
- 4 ounces tofu
Be sure to consume enough calories to meet your energy demands. If you are losing weight undesirably or unexpectedly, you should increase your caloric intake. This keeps your energy level up!
Distribute your caloric intake evenly throughout the day. We recommend four to five small meals per day.
Vitamin A is available in two forms. The first is in the form of retinol (comes from foods of animal origin such as liver, fish oil, eggs, milk fortified with Vitamin A and other Vitamin A fortified foods). The second is in the form of carotenoids (such as beta carotene) that convert to Vitamin A in the body — found in red, yellow, orange, and many dark-green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin C – All citrus fruits, including oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, are good sources. Other good sources are berries, melons, peppers, dark-green leafy vegetables, potatoes and tomatoes.
Vitamin E is found most abundantly in vegetable oils, salad dressings and margarine. Vitamin E is also found in wheat germ, whole-grain products, seeds, nuts and peanut butter.
Vitamins A, B-6, C, D, and E, Copper, Folic Acid, selenium and zinc – These regulate immune function. Many vitamins have antioxidant properties as well. Try to get your vitamins from food, but supplements may be necessary.
Soy products are excellent sources of nutrients. Some examples: soy milk, soy flour, textured soy protein (TSP), tofu, soy nuts and whole soybeans. Check out a vegetarian cookbook and experiment. There are many soy products available in most grocery stores. If you do not find them, ask your supermarket to order them for you.
6. Medications: stick to your regimen!
Check on the correct use of your Bronchodilators (especially inhaled ones) with your pharmacist and/or doctor.
Inhaled Corticosteroids: Rinse your mouth thoroughly after you use a steroid inhaler, or you may be at increased risk of an infection in your mouth.
Metered Dose Inhalers (MDI): Your doctor may prescribe a spacer to maximize the benefits and reduce side effects.
Get Prompt, Aggressive Treatment of respiratory tract infections. Infection is the single most important factor in the progression of Alpha-1 disease.
If you develop any of these: increased shortness of breath, a fever, a big increase in nasal drainage, or if you are coughing up phlegm that is any color other than clear, get medical attention as soon as possible. It’s important to avoid developing pneumonia.
7. Pulmonary Hygiene
Oxygen Saturation Monitoring: It’s a good idea to have a pulse oximeter to check your oxygen saturation level, especially if you are on supplementary oxygen. (Pulse oximeters cost much less than they did just a few years ago.) A drop in your oxygen saturation level may be an early sign of infection or allergic reaction, so get medical advice if this happens.
Tips and information are from the Big Fat Reference Guide. The online BFRG is quick and easy to use. A simple registration allows the BFRG to be personalized to the specific needs of the user.
It is available here.
(This article was published and provided by the Alpha-1 Foundation)