Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – COPD, for short – is a progressive lung disease which, over time, makes it hard to breathe.
Every year, more than 120,000 American deaths are related to COPD, with cigarette smoking being the most common cause. However, COPD also includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the latter of which doctors believe may not always be a characteristic of COPD. So what exactly is COPD, and how do you treat it?
With COPD, the name says it all
C – Chronic, meaning one can expect the disease to progress over time. Some people find it hard to breathe when their allergies act up. Others may get exercise-induced asthma and reach into their gym bag for a rescue inhaler. Unlike allergies or asthma, which usually acts up when triggered, COPD is a chronic condition, meaning that it persists and can get worse with time.
O – Obstructive, meaning that with COPD, the airways of your lungs will thicken or become inflamed. This is where oxygen is exchanged, so it will become exceedingly more difficult to draw air into your lungs. Since oxygen fuels healthy cells, your tissue may become less efficient at ridding your body of carbon dioxide and soon the tissue may deteriorate, making breathing efficiently that much more difficult.
P – Pulmonary is Latin for “pertaining to the lungs,” and that is exactly what is affected by COPD. With COPD, one may expect their airways to become inflamed and eventually lose their elasticity. That deep, resonant cough that is common from one with COPD is the result of too much mucus obstructing the airways. Again, over time, lung tissue will be destroyed, and the ability to be active and energetic will eventually be severely diminished.
D – Disease. COPD is a disease, but the good news is that it is not only manageable, it may be preventable!
Here are a few ways to avoid the risk of getting COPD, or reduce the symptoms if you have it:
- Stop smoking. It’s easier said than done, but if you do smoke – STOP. If you never have smoked, don’t start. If you live in a smoke-filled environment, encourage the smokers to smoke outside.
- Medications. There are medications and inhalers that are specifically formulated for those who suffer from COPD. The inhalers are similar to rescue inhalers, but they are to be used on a regular basis, not just when you need to clear your lungs (which is when you would in fact use a rescue inhaler).
- Pulmonary Rehab is a holistic approach to taking care of your lungs, and includes nutrition, exercise therapy, nutritional advice and counseling. Pulmonary rehab can be used in conjunction with, and actually complements, other treatments and medications.
- Review your occupational health situation. Are you a mechanic, painter, hair stylist, or HVAC technician? There are many occupations that put you in direct contact with dangerous chemicals and substances, which, without proper preventive measures, could have a serious effect on your lungs. There is no shame to wearing a protective mask, encouraging proper ventilation, or asking for safety and OSHA provisions. It is your right not only to be healthy, but it is your right under the law!
- Supplemental Oxygen. “All I need is the air that I breathe,” is a song lyric born in medical necessity! Oxygen fuels our bodies – from doing the most minute task, like sleeping, to running a marathon. Imagine how nourished your body will feel if you are able to have a constant stream of fresh air to fuel every tissue in your body. Plus, O2 takes the stress off your lungs, making breathing easier.
- Surgery. If it gets to the point where your COPD has reduced your quality of life as badly as your health, you may be a candidate for lung surgery. To even be considered, you must be strong enough to sustain the surgery (which remember includes anesthesia) and be a non-smoker. Most doctors or insurance companies will also mandate that you are participating in a pulmonary rehab program.
COPD is almost always treatable. The key letter here is “C” – chronic – and if symptoms appear early enough, you may be able to stop them in time to prevent the “D” – disease – from taking form.
If you or someone you know either has been diagnosed with, or may be at risk of developing COPD, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Call the experienced, friendly staff at Intercoastal Medical Group at one of our area locations or request an appointment online.