COPD: A Preventable Illness
COPD is a lung disease that results from damage to the lungs that gets worse over time. It’s a mix of two diseases:
Chronic Bronchitis – This illness happens when the airways that bring air to the lungs become inflamed and produce more mucus than usual. This makes the airways constricted and it becomes difficult to breathe.
Emphysema – The little air sacs in the lungs expand and contract to push air through your lungs. In emphysema, they are harmed and lose their ability to expand and contract. Not enough air gets in and out of the lungs, and it makes you feel short of breath.
What causes COPD?
You are most likely to get COPD from breathing in lung irritants. These irritants can be smoke or something else. There are other causes as well:
- Smoking – Cigarette smoke is the most common reason that people get COPD. Other tobacco products can give you the illness as well. These include cigar and pipe smoke.
- Second-hand smoke – If you live or are regularly around a smoker and breathe in the smoke, you can get the illness too.
- Pollution and fumes – You can get the illness from air pollution. This includes breathing in chemical fumes, dust, or toxic substances on the job.
- Genetics – About two to three percent of people with the illness have a defect in their DNA. This defect is called AAT deficiency. This deficiency means that your lungs don’t have enough of a specific protein that protects them from damage.
- Asthma – While uncommon, asthma can lead to COPD. If you don’t treat your asthma, then over time you can sustain permanent damage.
Risk Factors for COPD
If you have COPD, then there is permanent damage to your lungs. However, you can make changes that can slow the progress of the disease:
- Quit smoking – This is the most important thing that you can do to slow down the progress of the illness. If you are not currently a smoker, then be sure not to take it up.
- Avoid things that may bother your lungs – To the degree that you can, stay away from fumes, toxins, second-hand smoke, and dust.
- Avoid colds, viruses, and infections – If you have COPD, then even a minor sickness can be a major one. You need to wash your hands often so that you won’t catch anything. You should also try to avoid people who are sick.
- Get vaccinated – This will protect your lungs against the flu and pneumonia.
- Get tested for AAT deficiency – A simple blood test can find out if you are genetically predisposed to COPD. This is uncommon, but if you have breathing problems that have no clear cause, then you may want to get tested. Testing is also a good idea if you get emphysema before the age of 46 or have a family member who has the genetic issue.
Treatment for COPD
Pulmonary rehab can help you with COPD. It helps train your mind, muscles, and heart to make the most with damaged lungs. Rehab includes exercise, breathing therapy, suggestions for diet, and other education.
There are medicines to help treat COPD. They come in both long-acting and short-acting forms.
Other treatments for COPD include:
Oxygen treatment – This involves getting more oxygen from a tank. It can be done at the hospital or at home.
Treatment for muscle weakness or weight loss
Help with depression – This is a side effect of COPD. It can be a significant problem.
Surgery – This is an uncommon treatment for the illness, but it is used sometimes when all other treatments fail.
We have seen that COPD is usually related to the habits and environment of people who come down with the illness. This means that there is a lot that you can do to prevent yourself from getting it. Once you do get it, it is not too late to change your habits to prevent the progress of the disease.