Breathing is easy, until it isn’t. Advice for keeping our lungs healthy from a Swedish respiratory therapist.

October 27, 2023 Swedish Health Team


In this article:

  • Respiratory therapists help patients facing acute, critical and chronic lung conditions.

  • The respiratory therapists with Swedish Respiratory Care Services work with patients of every age across the entire continuum of care to provide the latest treatments including non-invasive ventilation.

  • The first step you can take to protect your respiratory health is to make sure you are up to date on your COVID-19 vaccine.

Every October, the American Association for Respiratory Care observes Respiratory Care Week. This annual observance highlights the vital role that respiratory therapists play in health care and their crucial work in diagnosing and treating respiratory conditions. To learn more about the lifesaving and life-changing respiratory care that happens here at Swedish, we spoke with Jim Kumpula, regional director of respiratory care services at Swedish Medical Center.

Respiratory therapists help patients of all ages through tough medical moments

The respiratory therapists with Swedish Respiratory Care Services work with patients of all ages across the entire continuum of care. On any given day, this may include newborns on ventilators in neonatal intensive care (NICU), pediatric patients dealing with asthma and RSV, or adult patients during a cardiac event or in the early stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“At Swedish, our respiratory therapists travel from location to location to address the needs of multiple patient populations like acute, critical, chronic, neonatal and pediatric care to help people breathe in different ways,” says Kumpula.

Working closely with Swedish pulmonology specialists and the pulmonary function lab, the respiratory care team helps diagnose, manage and treat all types of respiratory conditions, and the nature of their work often puts them at a patient’s side during tense and frightening medical moments.

“We work with patients when they cannot breathe, which can be a very raw and emotionally difficult experience,” says Kumpula. “This leads to a unique connection between our team and the people we treat, as we work to see them through these tough situations.”

Advancements in respiratory care

Kumpula has been with Swedish for over 30 years, helping grow the respiratory care program. In that time, the technology and treatments for respiratory conditions have become more streamlined and comfortable for patients.

“When I began working in respiratory care, we put patients on simple oxygen devices or breathing machines that required endotracheal intubation,” he says. “Now we use non-invasive ventilation, which uses a fitted mask rather than a breathing tube to help people breathe properly.”

Another option is a high-flow nasal cannula, which gives humidified oxygen at very high rates, allowing patients to stay off of both non-invasive ventilation and intubation and making it possible for them to eat and drink even while they are severely compromised.”

Medication delivery is also more effective than it was in the past. The nebulizers used by patients with chronic lung conditions like COPD, cystic fibrosis and asthma now contain and deliver highly concentrated doses of medication deep into the lungs. When using a nebulizer, the patient breathes normally while slowly breathing the medicine in — unlike an inhaler which requires a swift and deliberate deep breath — making them a good option for young children and people who are very sick.

Protecting your lungs from respiratory viruses

When it comes to safeguarding your lung health, Kumpula emphasizes the importance of vaccines like the flu shot, the RSV vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The best lung care advice I can share is to get vaccinated and stay up to date on your boosters,” he says. “It is also important to remember that infections rise during the winter because people spend more time together indoors in close quarters — so you should still consider masking when it makes sense, and if you feel sick, stay home.”

Kumpula emphasizes that if you do get sick, call your doctor as soon as possible. There are treatments that can help minimize the symptoms of COVID-19 and its impact on your health.

Minimizing the impact of allergens

In addition to cold and flu season, allergy season (which varies depending on a patient’s allergies) creates additional stress on our respiratory health. Throughout the year, people can work on fundamental self-care routines that support lung health.

“Taking a shower and washing your nose and mouth before going to bed during allergy season will get rid of allergens and help you sleep better,” says Kumpula. “Sticking to a regular bedtime and ensuring you are getting enough sleep is important, too.”

“When we get run down, we are more susceptible to diseases. This moment in time is a reminder to be really intentional about taking care of ourselves.”

Learn more and find a provider

If you have a health issue or concern, it’s important to see a provider for the right care when you need it. Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, Swedish is here for you.

For urgent, walk-in or after-hours care, visit one of our Swedish Urgent Care facilities. Swedish Express Care Virtual connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our Swedish provider directory.

Related resources

A Swedish respiratory therapist honors her late mother by caring for others

Protect your respiratory health during wildfire season

What vaccinations do you need to get this fall?

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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