Understanding and Treating COPD

Understanding and Treating COPD

COPD stands for “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease“. COPD cannot be cured, but it can be managed and controlled pretty well with COPD treatment. 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 COPD includes other chronic respiratory illnesses such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema develops over time and involves gradual damage of lung tissue and alveoli (air sacs). As the air sacs are broken down, more air is trapped inside. In chronic bronchitis the lining of the breathing tubes become inflamed. Lots of mucus is being produced and coughed up. Many people have both, chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

As we age, our lung function slowly declines. 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.

chronic bronchitis / COPD
chronic bronchitis

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. Usually people will  attribute these 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. Here is a list of early COPD symptoms:

– 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

What are the treatment goals in COPD?

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. You may consider joining a support group and ask your family and friends to support you in your effort to quit.

Eating enough can be an issue, due to difficult breathing and fatigue. You may need to follow a nutrition plan to get all the nutrients that you need. Eating smaller and more frequent meals, and supplement with vitamins and minerals, may help.

You may find hard to have physical activity but this can strengthen the muscles that help breathing and cardiovascular health.

Take care of the air you breathe! You can use air filters to clean the indoor air from 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 to maintain a good hygiene on your respiratory system. It helps to expel the sputum, reduce inflammation and promotes easier breathing. The salt particles can also help in cleaning the indoor air. The negatively charged particles of salt stick and eliminate the positively charged particles of dust and pollutants.

COPD classical medication

The usual medication in COPD includes:

  • Bronchodilators – help to relax the smooth muscles around airways and help you 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. This may help to identify if the addition of steroid helps to relieve the breathing problems.

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

People with COPD are at higher risk for pneumonia and your doctor may also suggest a pneumococcal vaccine. Home salt therapy can also greatly help in managing COPD. Daily use of salt therapy helps in clearing the mucus and reduces inflammation. This is important because stagnant secretions increase the risk of infections. The salt aerosol have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties, as well.

Pulmonary rehabilitation or rehab is a program that aims to improve breathing and wellbeing. This can be done through physical and breathing exercises, disease management training and nutritional and psychological counselling. The program involves nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and dietitians.

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