Breathing is something that comes natural to the human body. From infancy through adulthood breathing is a critical factor of living. The respiratory system is the network of organs and tissues that help you breathe. It includes your airways, lungs, and blood vessels as well as all of the muscles that aide in their function. These parts work together to move oxygen throughout the body and clean out waste gases like carbon dioxide. As we age, it is not uncommon to have some respiratory problems. However, developing chronic respiratory illnesses is, in many cases, preventable and treatable.
What is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that obstructs the airflow from the lungs. It’s typically caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or substances, most often from cigarette smoke. COPD is the third leading cause of death by disease in the United States. More than 16.4 million people have been diagnosed with COPD, but millions more may have the disease without even knowing it.
Studies conducted since the onset of COVID-19 has shown that adults of any age with COPD are at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19. To learn more about the effects of COVID-19 in conjunction with COPD visit cdc.gov.
What are the Warning Signs?
Signs and symptoms of COPD may include:
- Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities
- Chest tightness
- A chronic cough that may produce mucus (sputum) that may be clear, white, yellow or greenish
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Lack of energy
- Unintended weight loss (in later stages)
- Swelling in ankles, feet or legs
Those with COPD are also likely to experience episodes called exacerbations, during which their symptoms become worse than the usual day-to-day symptoms and may last for several days. If you can’t catch your breath, if you experience severe blueness of your lips or fingernail beds (cyanosis) or a rapid heartbeat, or if you feel foggy and have trouble concentrating it is highly recommended that you seek immediate medical care.
Who is most likely to develop COPD?
The lung damage that leads to COPD is caused by long-term cigarette smoking. Although only some chronic smokers develop clinically apparent COPD, many smokers with long smoking histories may develop reduced lung function. In the developing world, COPD often occurs in people exposed to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated homes.
Women in the US are more likely to develop COPD than men and have a higher death rate. A major reason for this was the tobacco industry intensely targeting women in the late 1960’s. This resulted in a huge increase in women smoking. Additionally, women are more vulnerable than men to lung damage from cigarette smoke and other pollutants. Their lungs are smaller, and estrogen may play a role in worsening lung disease.
How can it be treated?
While there is no cure for COPD, the good news is that if it is found early, much can be done to treat and help manage the disease. Through medications, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation and social support, many people are able to live with their disease for many years.
At Spring Hills, instilling a sense of acceptance, community, and belonging in a positive environment is crucial to our COPD residents/patients. COPD can make it difficult to breathe, making everyday activities much more difficult and frustrating to complete. We understand the importance for patients/residents to feel like themselves and take a highly individualized approach to yield the best results for each individual person. Providing exercise and therapy programs is one way we help our patients/residents. For some, that includes light exercise guided by professionals, like stretching, walking, and resistance training. This helps to not only alleviate symptoms of respiratory diseases, it also increases the individual’s energy levels and self-esteem.
How can I prevent developing COPD?
The majority of cases are directly related to cigarette smoking, and the best way to prevent COPD is to never smoke — or to stop smoking now. If you’re a longtime smoker, these simple statements may not seem so simple, especially if you’ve tried quitting — once, twice or many times before. But keep trying to quit. It’s your best chance for reducing damage to your lungs and preventing COPD.