Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive (meaning that it gets worse as time goes by) disease that negatively impacts a person’s ability to breathe.
COPD sufferers often experience symptoms such as coughing and wheezing, as well as other symptoms that are uncomfortable both physically and psychologically for those who suffer from it.
To better understand COPD, it is necessary to first have a better understanding of how the lungs work. As you breathe, the air goes down your windpipe into tubes in your lungs called bronchial tubes. Inside the bronchial tubes are thousands of small, thin tubes called bronchioles that end in clusters of miniscule air sacs called alveoli.
Tiny blood vessels called capillaries run through the walls of the alveoli. When air reaches the alveoli, oxygen passes through their walls and enters the blood in the capillaries. Simultaneously, carbon dioxide moves from the capillaries into the alveoli in a process called gas exchange. While this process is somewhat difficult to understand, simply put, the problem caused by COPD is that less air flows in and out of the airways. This can be caused by several factors:
• The airways and alveoli lose their elastic quality.
• The airways make more mucus than usual, which can clog them.
• The walls of the airways become thick and inflamed
• The walls between many of the air sacs are destroyed.
Causes of COPD
There are several factors that can lead to people developing COPD. Most smoke cigarettes, or did in the past. Chronic exposure to things like air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust may also increase the chances of developing COPD. However, cigarettes are by far the leading cause of this disease, and even smokers who quit after many years can see a marked improvement in their health; if you smoke, it is encouraged to discuss with your doctor ways that can help you quit.
As COPD is a progressive disease, many sufferers do not immediately recognize the symptoms as being anything more than a common allergy or they may think that they have a simple sinus infection or are experiencing a bout with asthma. However, as the more serious symptoms of COPD develop — coughing with mucus output, wheezing, and shortness of breath, it generally becomes concerning enough for people to seek medical care.
Unfortunately, many patients do not see COPD as a serious illness until symptoms are very advanced. However it is the third leading cause of death in the United States and millions of people are diagnosed with COPD, while others are not aware that they have it. In its advanced stages, simple, everyday activities such as walking, cooking, working or even doing the day to day chores of caring for your personal needs may become impossible. While there is no known way to reverse or cure this disease, there are treatments and lifestyle changes that may improve your quality of life.
Tips for Living with COPD
• Do activities slowly
• Put items you need within arms’ reach, as much as possible.
• If you smoke, seek help to quit smoking right away.
• Take care of your emotional wellbeing; consider joining a support group for COPD sufferers or even talking with a professional counselor.
• Let your friends and loved ones help you when you need it, without feeling guilty.