COPD, also known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, affects the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. The disease is caused by damage to the lungs over time, usually caused by tobacco use, and can be prevented by quitting smoking. Unfortunately there is currently no cure for COPD and the disease tends to get progressively worse over time. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are two of the most common types of COPD.
Causes of COPD
COPD is caused by inhaling irritants into the lungs, such as cigarette smoking. When these foreign particles enter the body, the lung becomes inflamed and the air sacs stop working properly. While smoking is the most common cause of COPD, it can also be the result of breathing in pollution, dust or chemical fumes. Second-hand smoke can also cause COPD in some people. To diagnose COPD, doctors listen to the lungs during a physical exam and examine chest x-rays. They will also ask the patient about their past and current tobacco use, as well as any possible exposure to toxic fumes or irritants. Doctors can also use breathing tests to reveal any problems with the lungs.
COPD disease affects the function of the tiny air sacs inside the lungs, which act like small balloons. In people with healthy lungs, the air sacs stretch to inflate and deflate, returning each time to their normal shape. In those with COPD, the air sacs lose their elasticity and do not return to normal, instead becoming saggy. Some of the common symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath, a chronic cough, and mucus that comes up from the lungs. Sometimes the shortness of breath can make exercise a challenge, and as the disease progresses, even the most basic tasks may make it difficult to breathe.
Because it takes quite some time for the disease to develop, COPD is most common in people over 60 years in age. There are some treatments that can ease the symptoms, such as use of inhalers, rehabilitation, vaccinations, oxygen therapy and even lung transplants. People with COPD are highly susceptible to lung infections, so it is recommended that they get a flu shot each year as well as shot to help prevent pneumonia. Avoiding irritants by installing an air filter or air conditioner in the home can also help those with COPD to stay healthy. Difficulty breathing may cause some people to experience depression or anxiety, especially as the disease worsens over time. There are many types of counseling and support options available to help people living with COPD.