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Understanding and Treating COPD

Understanding and Treating COPD

COPD stands for "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease" and if you have it you need to know that it cannot be cured,  but it can be managed and pretty well controlled. Having COPD should not keep you from having an enjoyable life.

COPD  symptoms include many debilitating symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough and poor lung function. Under its umbrella the term COPD includes other chronic respiratory diseases: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In chronic bronchitis the lining of the breathing tubes become inflamed and lots of mucus is being produced and coughed up. With emphysema, the walls of the air sacs in the lungs are broken down and more air is trapped inside. Many people have both, chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

As we age, our lung function slowly declines each year, but for some people there is a rapid decline and this is happening especially in people who smoke cigarettes. Smoking is not the only important factor in COPD. Exposure to irritants and fumes, increased air pollution or dusty environment can also play an important role in developing COPD. Some people may also inherit a genetic predisposition in developing COPD.

How is COPD diagnosed

Early diagnosis and treatment makes a difference in managing COPD. At the beginning the only sign can be a dry cough or a mild breathing difficulty, that usually people attribute them to aging or being out of shape. Breathing difficulty is not a normal sign of aging and people should consult their doctor. As a result of ignoring symptoms, people with COPD are not being diagnosed until the disease is advanced. Early symptoms of COPD can be:

wheezing when exhale

shortness of breath or air hunger or heaviness while breathing

increased sputum or phlegm that is usually coughed up

persistent cough

– felling tired, fatigued or lacking energy

– trouble sleeping, restlessness or not rested in the morning

– needing for more pillows or sleeping in a chair to avoid shortness of breath

– swelling of the ankles due to low blood oxygenation

The goals in COPD treatment are:

  • relieving symptoms

  • slowing the progress of the disease

  • preventing and treating complications

  • and improving well-being

These will include some lifestyle changes. First step is to quit smoking and avoid lung irritants, second-hand smoke, fumes or toxic substances. Quitting smoking can be difficult, so you may consider joining a group, ask your family and friends to support you in your effort to quit.

You may have trouble eating enough due to the breathing difficulty and fatigue. You may need to follow a nutrition plan to get all the nutrients that you need. You may need to eat smaller and more frequent meals, rest before eating and supplement with vitamins and minerals.

You may find it hard to have physical activity but this can strengthen the muscles that help breathing and improve wellbeing.

Take care of the air you breathe! You can use air filters to filter the air for dust and other pollutants. Use a humidifier or dehumidifier, depending what is needed to keep normal level of humidity in the indoor air.   

Consider using home salt therapy that will help in cleaning your respiratory system and expel the sputum, reduce inflammation and help you breathe easier. The salt particles also help in cleaning the indoor air you breathe.

The usual medication in COPD includes:

  • Bronchodilators – help to relax the smooth muscles around airways and helps you to breathe easier. Depending on the severity of your COPD, this medication can be short-acting or long-acting. The short-acting bronchodilators are prescribed in mild COPD and use it only when symptoms occur.

  • Glucocorticosteroids (steroids) – help to reduce the inflammation in the respiratory system; usually they are prescribed together with a bronchodilator for a trial period of few months to check if the addition of steroid helps to relieve breathing problems.

In severe COPD, with low level of oxygen in the blood, oxygen therapy can help restore the oxygen level and improve over all condition.   

People with COPD are at higher risk for pneumonia and your doctor may suggest a pneumococcal vaccine. Home salt therapy is of great help here because the salt particles help in cleaning the mucus and have anti-bacterial properties; stagnant mucus or sputum / phlegm increase the risk in developing bacterial infection.

Pulmonary rehabilitation or rehab is program that helps you improve breathing and wellbeing, through physical and breathing exercises, disease management training and nutritional and psychological counselling. The program involves nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and dietitians.