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A Q&A With Pulmonologist Dr. Michael Pritchett

When’s the last time you thought about your lungs? Probably the last time you climbed a flight of stairs. Don’t worry, feeling winded is totally normal — but there are some things you should be doing to keep those heart pillows healthy and keep breathin’ easy.

Dr. Michael Pritchett, a pulmonary and critical care physician with Pinehurst Medical Clinic, in a hybrid operating room in the Reid Heart Center at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital.

Why did you choose to become a doctor? Why a pulmonologist?

I’ve always been fascinated by the science behind how the human body works and I enjoy interactions with patients and their families. I decided to become a pulmonary and critical care physician because I liked that I got to do procedures and also was responsible for caring for the sickest patients in the hospital.

With this specialty we still very much have to know about all the different systems in the body and how they are affected by various disease states. Medicine is analytical — it’s problem solving on the highest level, and I’ve also enjoyed that challenge.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

My focus more recently has trended toward interventional pulmonology. I have been lucky to have the opportunity here at FirstHealth to get more involved in this field and even to be on the cutting edge of this relatively new specialty. The most rewarding part of my job is my connection with my patients. I feel a great sense of responsibility to them as I guide them through the various stages of their medical journey. This can also be the most challenging part of my job as well. I think we often find in life that the things that challenge you the most can be the most rewarding. 

What do you do in your time off? 

In my time off I like to travel and spend time with my family and our pets (two dogs and two cats). I’m also a photographer and my wife and I enjoy scuba diving.

Top tips to keep your lungs healthy?

The biggest one is don’t smoke. That includes cigars and vaping, etc. Vaping has become rampant for our teenagers in high school (whether you want to believe it or not, it’s true). Staying in good shape and exercising regularly are great ways to keep your lungs healthy. Try to avoid any pollutants — this includes second hand smoke, dusts, chemicals, inhalants, etc. If you have a job that involves anything that you can inhale in your lungs, make sure you work in a well-ventilated area and use a respiratory. We take for granted all the things that we inhale into our lungs.

Preventing infections is also a good way to take care of your lungs. Make sure you get the influenza vaccine yearly and the “pneumonia vaccine” as recommended by your doctor. Eat healthy to promote a good functioning immune system as well. Weight loss can also help your breathing significantly (if you’re overweight). For those who have underlying lung disease like COPD or asthma or fibrosis, staying active, exercising, doing rehab and breathing techniques has been shown to improve your lung function and overall health.

I run all the time, but I’m still out of breath when I climb stairs. Why?

There are a few reasons that this happens: First, you really aren’t warming up. You go from low-level oxygen requirements to a higher level fairly quickly. It takes a lot of different muscles to climb the stairs and those muscles all feed off of oxygen. It’s natural for your heart rate to go up and to take deeper breaths to accommodate this increased oxygen need. Try going out of your way to take the stairs more often, and work on exercising your legs as much as you typically do cardio. If you normally have no problems doing an activity and then you start having difficulty with this, see your doctor to make sure you don’t have something other than de-conditioning going on.

Are there any foods that help maintain healthy lungs?

There have been a lot of small studies to see if certain foods can help your breathing. There is no consensus in medical literature about this and most of the studies have been very small, without other rigorously conducted follow-up studies. In general its advisable to have a healthy, well-balanced diet and avoid excessive sugars and fats.

This Q&A was produced in partnership with FirstHealth. See more from Dr. Pritchett in this video.

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