What Exactly is COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) affects more than three million Americans a year. The disease has no cure but can be managed with medicine and other therapies to reduce its effects on daily life. It is a lung condition caused by smoking or long-term exposure to lung irritants like smog. It most commonly affects current and ex-smokers. Genetic predisposition to COPD can increase the risk of developing it, and in rare cases a genetic deficiency of alpha-1antitrypsin can also cause COPD in non-smokers.
COPD affects individuals by causing inflamed airways and thus less room for air to travel through to the lungs. The lung tissue and blood vessels in the lungs become inflamed, and this damages lung tissue irreversibly, which is why COPD has no cure. Lung tissue cannot be regenerated. The cells that produce mucus in the lungs are often damaged and therefore the lungs are not lubricated, so the tissue becomes irritated and fragile. A significant portion of lung tissue cells die and never regain function, but medication helps slow down this process. Most people that have COPD also have chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
What Are The Symptoms?
Since COPD affects lung tissue, the symptoms are mostly respiratory in nature. Symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath, wheezing, a tight feeling in the chest, difficulty breathing, excessive mucus in the throat, chronic cough, lethargy, respiratory infections, productive coughs with colored sputum, blue lips or fingertips, and other lung-related complications like emphysema and bronchitis. The biggest indicators of COPD are also signs of other illnesses like asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema, and COPD is typically not diagnosed until it has caused significant damage to a person’s lungs.
How Is COPD Treated?
COPD can be mild or severe, so it is important to catch the illness early in order to treat it effectively. COPD has no cure but therapy and medication can lead to a higher quality of life. Individuals diagnosed with COPD are encouraged to stop smoking since that will only make things worse. They are typically also prescribed inhalers with bronchodilator medicine to soothe and open their airways in order to breathe easier. Sometimes patients are also given inhaled steroids to reduce airway inflammation, but these can lead to more side effects like oral infections and bruising.
Individuals can also take pills with steroids and antibiotics to avoid infection. Lung therapy is also an option; oxygen therapy can come in portable units to provide the patient with more oxygen, and respiration therapy helps a patient learn breathing exercises and attend counseling for COPD. Surgery is also an option for people who do not improve on medication. However, lung tissue removal surgery is risky and sometimes does not work for every patient. Lung transplants are rarely done and, while they can improve lifestyle, they can also lead to organ rejection complications and a lifetime of immune system suppression medication so that the organ is not rejected.
How Is Life Affected By COPD?
A COPD diagnosis is for life, but patients can take steps in their everyday lives to reduce their discomfort. COPD has effects on daily life like difficulty breathing, but patients can alleviate this by doing exercising moderately, maintaining a healthy weight, taking medication as scheduled, and avoiding irritants like cigarettes and smog. The best thing individuals can do to prevent and treat COPD is to stop smoking.