August 31, 2015
While most of us are relatively familiar with asthma and allergies, not many people are aware of what COPD is, but if someone you know is suffering from a chronic respiratory disease, it’s time to take note. Chronic respiratory diseases, primarily COPD, is the third leading cause of death in the United States.
COPD isn’t one specific disease; rather, it’s an umbrella term for a variety of pulmonary diseases. COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and covers ailments such as bronchitis, emphysema, and refractory asthma. These diseases affect an estimated 24 million people in the United States. This is just an estimate because half of all COPD patients have symptoms but are undiagnosed, which means half of all patients are not getting the treatment they need. Early warning signs are relatively unknown by the population at large, and this is a progressive disease, which means it gets worse over time. Knowing what to look for and some treatment options could save someone’s life.
Because the disease is progressive, it is characterized by increasing breathlessness. The leading cause of COPD is cigarette smoke, but it can be contracted through exposure to air pollutants, or respiratory infections, while a small percentage will contract it thanks to genetic factors.
To diagnose COPD, a doctor will conduct a spirometry test, which tests how well one breathes. This is a common diagnosing test in airway diseases. You’ll blow air into a large tube connected to a spirometer, which will assess how much air your lungs can hold, and how fast you empty your lungs. This test is most often used because it tracks lung efficiency, and declining lung efficiency and increasing breathlessness is one of the first symptoms of COPD. Chest X-Rays and CT Scans are also used to view the lungs.
If it is determined that you or someone you know has COPD, it’s important to know that there are treatment options.
- First and most importantly, if you are a smoker, stop smoking as soon as you can. Ceasing cigarette usage is key to stopping the progression of COPD. If you have trouble quitting smoking, talk to your doctor about joining a support group.
- Try to avoid fumes and other lung irritants, such as: secondhand smoke, dust, fumes or other toxic pollutants, and talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes you can make to strengthen your lungs and airways. There are even pulmonary rehabilitation programs that provide you with a team of medical professionals, like those here at BreatheAmerica, all working to create a holistic plan to improve your well-being.