There is a laundry list of diseases and conditions you can get from smoking, but, by far, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is the most common. COPD itself can be further classified into many types, the most common being chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Millions of people, smokers and non-smokers alike, are currently suffering from COPD, and most people with COPD have a combination of emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD is also one of the leading causes of death in the US.
What causes COPD?
Smoking is usually the culprit for the development of COPD. Statistics even say that up to 80% of cases of COPD are caused by smoking.
Non-smokers who develop COPD usually get the disease from long-term exposure to secondhand smoke, which is usually why living with a smoker puts you at a significantly greater risk of COPD. Exposure to lung irritants can also increase your risk of COPD. People suffering from HIV or AIDS are more vulnerable to disease. Age can also be considered a risk factor, since people over 40 years of age are more prone to getting COPD.
In rare cases, COPD is caused by a genetic condition that decreases the production of alpha-1 antitrypsin in the body. Lower levels of this protein can make COPD more likely to occur.
What are the symptoms of COPD?
People who suffer from COPD often show symptoms of coughing and shortness of breath. In addition to those symptoms, people with COPD can also have the barrel-shaped chest and tightness in the chest. In most cases, the symptoms of COPD are the same with the symptoms of emphysema and bronchitis, as most people with COPD have a combination of both.
Chronic bronchitis is usually defined as a long-lasting cough with increased mucus production. Coughing caused by COPD is usually chronic as well and can last for three months out of the year, for at least two years. If you have COPD, you’ll notice that your coughing is very persistent and intense and that it often produces sputum. Some people have reported the coughs to be so intense that they cause rib fractures. In extreme cases, the exertion can even cause loss of consciousness.
The chronic coughing that COPD brings results in the lack of sufficient air in your lungs as well as poor oxygen levels. With lower oxygen levels, you get tired much more easily and you’re often short of breath; even light physical activity can lead to wheezing. With COPD, you’ll also notice some weight loss.
How is COPD diagnosed?
Medical professionals typically use spirometry to diagnose COPD. Patients blow air into an instrument called a spirometer, which measures air flow from the lungs. Decreased air flow points to impaired lung functions, a common sign of COPD. If you’re suspected to have COPD, you will also be subjected to blood tests for arterial blood gas, which measures the levels of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream. Having poor arterial blood gas test results mean you’re having difficulty breathing, and this is a common occurrence when COPD has progressed into advanced stages.
Further tests such as chest x-rays and CT scans also help in confirming or ruling out other conditions related to COPD, such as emphysema. Your blood and sputum may also be tested for infections. You can also have blood tests to find out if you’re suffering from a genetic case of COPD.
How is COPD treated? Is it curable?
COPD is not yet a curable disease, unfortunately, and the disease only gets worse over time. But the good news is that there are many ways to slow the progress of the disease and live it with comfortably. Major lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and adopting a healthy diet can go a long way in minimizing the symptoms of COPD.
Discomfort or pain in the chest can be relieved using bronchodilators such as inhalers. An inhaler will open up the airways in your lungs, so you’ll find it easier to breather after a few puffs of your inhaler. The effects of short-acting inhalers, which must be used only as needed, usually last from 4 to 6 hours. Long-acting inhalers, on the other hand, can provide relief that lasts up to 12 hours and can be used every day.
When COPD gets worse, you might have to undergo oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy can be effective especially if you’re having trouble breathing on your own. Rehabilitation therapists might also teach you different breathing techniques to maximize airflow into your lungs. For instance, you might be asked to breathe through pursed lips, which allows you to inhale more air and breathe more comfortably and freely.
You might also have to take some medications to combat the negative effects of COPD. Swelling and inflammation in your lungs can be reduced by prescribed steroid medications. These medications may be in pill form or administered through inhalers. Medications with expectorant effects will also make it easier for you to expel mucus from your lungs, as expectorant medications can thin out and loosen mucus from your respiratory tract.
If you suffer from respiratory infections caused by COPD, antibiotics will most likely be used to deal with the infections. More serious complications of COPD include pneumonia, heart failure, malnutrition, and pneumothorax or lung collapse due to the presence of air in the space between the lungs and the chest wall.
In the most severe cases of COPD, surgical treatment may be needed. These surgical treatments often involve cutting out the diseased regions of the lungs. Total lung transplants may even be needed.
What can I do to relieve the symptoms of COPD?
Although COPD is not curable, there are many things you can do to relieve the disease’s symptoms. Improving your home and office space is said to go a long way in making sure that you’re comfortable living with COPD.
If you smoke, consider quitting smoking as soon as possible. It’s the biggest thing you can do to slow down the progression of COPD. If you’re not yet suffering from the symptoms of COPD, quit smoking while you’re ahead and spare yourself and your loved ones from the suffering COPD brings. If quitting smoking right now is not a viable option for you, cutting back on the number of cigarettes you smoke is your next best option. The progression of COPD and the severity of its symptoms are said to be linked to heavy smoking.
Avoid secondhand smoke as much as possible to prevent the negative effects of COPD from worsening. It will also be best to stay indoors as much as possible during the winter or in other periods of cold weather, as cold weather can significantly aggravate the symptoms of COPD.