Approximately 6 million people in the United States are living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). Unfortunately, many more may have the disease and not even know it. According to the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute, COPD is one of the leading causes of illness-related deaths in the country. Here are a few facts to help you understand this widespread disease and what can be done to treat it.
What is COPD?
There are several lung diseases that fall under the COPD umbrella, most of which progress over time. Generally speaking, people with COPD have a harder time breathing. According to COPD.com other early symptoms include:
- Chronic cough
- Coughing up phlegm
- Chest tightness
- Frequent colds or respiratory infections
As time passes, these conditions may worsen. Because many of these symptoms are shared by other illnesses, a person may not suspect COPD as the cause. By the time a patient seeks medical help, the disease may have already progressed severely. When COPD worsens, a COPD exacerbation or flare-up can occur. This is why it is important to recognize triggers early.
What are COPD Causes and Triggers?
COPD can be caused by smoking cigarettes, pipes, cigars; exposure to secondhand smoke; or exposure to chemicals such as asbestos. Asthmatics who smoke or have other COPD risk factors have a greater chance to develop COPD. Some studies also suggest that genes may play a role in determining a person’s risk to develop this illness.
As we age our lung capacity changes. The American Lung Association states that a person’s lungs mature at about 20-25 years of age. At about 35 years old the lung capacity starts to decrease. This is due to the normal aging in the body. As we age we lose elasticity in muscles and tissues, nerves in the airways become less sensitive, and the diaphragm grows weaker, among other physical changes. It is a normal part of the aging process for breathing to become more difficult.
However, it is important to learn the difference between the normal effects of aging, and COPD triggered events. Common triggers include:
- Smoking and inhaling second-hand smoke
- Household dust
- Air pollution, both indoors and outdoors
- Fumes from cooking and cleaning products
While there currently is no cure for COPD, there are various treatments that can help patients to manage their symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, most people who are diagnosed have a milder form of the disease. For some, taking actions such as quitting smoking can cease symptoms entirely. Along with lifestyle changes, doctors may also prescribe medication on either a regular or as-needed basis. Some of these may be taken via an inhaler, which acts quickly to relieve shortness of breath. Other patients may find that their blood is not receiving enough oxygen, and supplemental oxygen may be needed.
Surgery may become necessary for some patients, especially in those with severely damaged lung sacs, or emphysema. Therefore, lung transplants, volume reduction surgery, and other surgeries to improve airflow in the lungs are available options. As with all diseases, patients will need to work with their doctor to design a treatment plan that works best for them.
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