Breathing Isn’t Always Easy
What is COPD?
“Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, also known as COPD, is a group of diseases that block airflow into the lungs making it difficult for a person to breathe. Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis are the most common conditions that contribute to COPD,” says Dr. Amy Seinfeld, DO who practices at Haxtun Health. “Both of these conditions typically occur together and vary in severity among those affected.”
“Chronic bronchitis” is inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes which form the airway. Thick mucus and a cough develops which may hamper ones breathing.
“Emphysema” is a condition in which occurs after cigarette smoking or exposure to smoke chemicals and other toxins. The small airway passages, known as bronchioles, that lead to the alveoli sacs in the lungs are destroyed.
The most common cause of COPD is smoking. Other causes include secondhand smoke, indoor air pollution, chemicals, and dust. An inherited disorder, called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, is also a cause of COPD but is rare.
“The most common symptoms of COPD are an ongoing cough or a cough that produces a lot of mucus, shortness of breath, wheezing or whistling sounds when breathing, and chest tightness or heaviness,” states Dr. Seinfeld.
Symptoms of COPD often develop slowly but worsen over time. They can limit the ability to do routine activities such as walking, cooking, or taking care of yourself.
“COPD weakens the lungs, making it harder for the body to fight off colds or protect itself from smoke or air pollution,” Dr. Seinfeld says. “Over time, you may notice worsening symptoms because of specific triggers, such as fragrances, cold air, or poor air quality. Symptoms may get worse because of a cold, flu, or lung infection. Any of these things could potentially spark a flare-up.”
Flare-ups can lead to extreme shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, excessive coughing, and changes in the color of sputum, and potentially a fever. Physicians may prescribe antibiotics to treat an infection, along with other medicines, such as bronchodilators or steroids, to help with inflammation and labored breathing. Some severe symptoms may require hospitalization.
There is no cure for COPD, it is a progressive disease that worsens over time. However, COPD can be controlled and managed. To do this, you need consistent COPD care and regular communication with a doctor and other healthcare providers. Treatments and lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking can help you feel better, stay more active, and slow the progress of the disease. You may also need oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, or medicines to treat complications.
“Receiving a COPD diagnosis can be frightening and full of unknowns with questions such as, ‘what does this mean for me long-term, how will I manage this disease, and what does it mean for my loved ones?’” Dr. Seinfeld states. “As primary care providers, we understand that it can be an overwhelming diagnosis but rest assured that there are many ways to manage symptoms and treat COPD flare-ups.”
Quitting smoking is the most important step to help slow the progression of COPD. There are many resources available to those who wish to quit including, your doctor, support groups, and the 1-800-QUIT-NOW hotline.
Other treatments from your doctor may include a “controller” and a “reliever” medication. A controller medication is taken every day as preventative measures. As the name suggests, reliever medications are for quick relief in time of a flare-up. These medications work to relax muscles in the airway to ease breathing.
Nebulizers are another effective treatment for COPD patients. Nebulizers are small air compressors used to administer medication. Users put a nebulizer mask on their face or use a mouthpiece to breathe in mists of air mixed with medication.
It’s important that each individual speaks with their doctor if they have COPD or suspect that they may be exhibiting symptoms. Healthcare providers will develop individualized plans that work with every specific case. If you are living with COPD or experiencing symptoms, reach out to one of our trusted providers today at 970-774-6187.