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What is COPD?
COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the term used to describe a lung condition that occurs as a result of damage to or obstruction of the airways of lungs. Conditions that may be classified as COPD include chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and while they may occur separately, they often occur together.
These conditions cause a narrowing of the airways which makes it difficult to breathe, and unlike conditions such as asthma, the damage caused is irreversible and generally progressive over time. Emphysema occurs when the walls of the alveoli or air sacs in the lungs lose their ability to stretch and constrict. This interferes with the normal breathing process and makes breathing difficult.
Chronic Bronchitis is characterized by a persistent and chronic mucous producing cough that continues for three months of the year for at least two years. The constant coughing results in inflammation of the airways which eventually results in scarring and damage to the lung tissue.
Symptoms of COPD generally come on gradually and slowly worsen over time. The most obvious symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath which is worse when exercising, and fatigue as not enough oxygen is getting to the body. Other symptoms will vary depending on the underlying condition and may include coughing, wheezing, excessive production of mucous, bluish lips, weight-loss and headaches.
What Causes COPD?
COPD is caused by damage to the lung tissue by external irritants. The number one cause of COPD is smoking as the irritants and chemicals inhaled cause permanent damage to lung airways.
Other common causes include exposure to second hand smoke or other pollutants such as chemical fumes and exhaust pollution or repeated exposure to fine dust or powder. Factors such as genetics, age, how much you smoke and how long you have been smoking for will also contribute to the development of severe COPD.
If you suspect you may have COPD then your doctor will need to gather a detailed medical history, and smoking history and will perform a thorough medical examination. Tests such as a spirometry test or lung volume measurement test can help determine the extent of the damage, while x-rays are often necessary to rule out other lung conditions and get further insight to the damaged areas.
Help for COPD
There is currently no cure for COPD, although there are various treatment options that can help reduce symptoms and prevent complications. The first step in COPD treatment is to quit smoking and learning to avoid lung irritants which can worsen the condition.
In addition to quitting smoking, medications to help breathing such as bronchodilators, anticholinergic drugs, or corticosteroids may be prescribed. In some cases, where COPD is severe, supplementary oxygen may be beneficial.
Oxygen is provided from an oxygen cylinder or concentrator and administered through oxygen mask or nasal tubing. Lastly, some cases of COPD can benefit from surgery where some of the damaged tissue is removed, allowing the healthy tissue to work better.
More Information on COPD
Tips for coping with COPD:
- The first and most important tip for COPD is to quit smoking! Smoking will worsen the symptoms and cause further damage to the lung tissue. While quitting is not easy, there are certain remedies that can be used to help you quite smoking naturally.
- Avoid second hand cigarette smoke, and other irritants such as pollutants, dust and aerosol sprays.
- Avoid respiratory infections. This can be done by addressing the first signs of colds, flu or sinus infections before they turn into chest infections. Also make sure you wash your hands regularly and consider vaccinations or natural alternatives to flu vaccinations.
- In addition, keep your immune system strong with a healthy diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables. A healthy diet will also help to keep your energy levels up.
- Drink plenty of water to help thin the chest mucus.
- Make regular exercise a part of your daily routine. Be sure to choose an exercise that meets your needs without exhausting yourself or putting too much strain on your lungs. Gentle exercises such as yoga or Pilates are often recommended.
- Speak to your health care provider about breathing techniques and relaxation exercises that will help you control your breathing.
- Make and stick to regular appointments with your doctor so that you condition can be monitored.