November is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Awareness Month. COPD awareness is necessary because it is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Nearly 16 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD; however, it is believed that millions more have it and are unaware.
Symptoms of COPD
The reason many are unaware they have COPD is that there are no apparent symptoms or there may be a gradual onset of symptoms that can be attributed to other causes. However, when the disease gets worse, the symptoms manifest and become severe.
- A wet cough (one that produces mucus)
- Chest tightness
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
Causes of COPD
COPD is attributed to long-term exposure to lung irritants like cigarette smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust. Those with a history of asthma or between the ages of 65 and 74 are also more likely to contract the disease.
There is a curious link between women and COPD. Once considered a man’s disease, more women than men have died from COPD in the United States since 2000. Women tend to be diagnosed later than men. Also, women are more vulnerable to the effects of tobacco evidenced by the fact that COPD afflicts female smokers at a younger age than men, even when they smoke less tobacco than their male counterparts.
Treatments for COPD
COPD is diagnosed through imaging, lung function, and blood tests. The two COPD types are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
COPD has no known cure; however, there are several treatments available. While COPD is a progressive disease, successful treatment can ease symptoms and prolong the patient’s quality of life.
Oral medications that relax muscles around the airway and oxygen therapy. Surgery and transplant treatments are also possible but reserved for the severest cases.
Because COPD increases the risk for other respiratory problems, a doctor will also advise patients on which vaccines are necessary for COPD patients including the annual flu shot, the pneumococcal vaccine, or the whooping cough vaccine.
Other complications that can occur as a result of COPD include heart problems, high blood pressure, and lung cancer.
With COPD, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Following these tips can make you less likely to develop COPD or lessen its severity.
- The best way to prevent COPD is to never smoke or quit smoking immediately.
- Avoid ingesting second-hand smoke or chemical fumes.
- Maintain a healthy body weight by eating a nutritious diet and drinking plenty of fluids.
- Avoid salty foods as they cause fluid retention and strain breathing. Drinking six to eight glasses (8 ounces) of noncaffeinated fluids each day keeps mucus thinner and makes it easier to cough out.
- Schedule regular exams with a doctor.
As a person ages, it is important to have an open and honest relationship with his or her doctor. A lingering cough or noticeable breathing changes should be mentioned to the doctor immediately. Do not let these symptoms fester for months.
Also, if the person diagnosed with COPD lives alone, it may be advisable for loved ones to encourage him to get a medical alert system, which can provide immediate assistance if a medical emergency occurs.