Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a blanket term used to describe a group of progressive lung diseases. These diseases are chronic and cause an obstruction in the airflow from the lungs, leading to increasing breathlessness. It is caused because of long-term exposure to hazardous or chemical irritants and gases, as well as from tobacco smoking. Patients suffering from COPD are also at higher risk of developing heart problems, lung cancer, respiratory issues, and several other serious health issues. As of date, there is no cure for COPD; however, early diagnosis and the right treatment can ease symptoms and also help lead a normal life. People with COPD could live long if proper care and effective treatment are followed. That said, there are still so many people who are unaware of its existence, its symptoms, causes, and treatment. It is thus, very important to know more about COPD to ensure you take necessary precautions since there is no cure.
Types of COPD
The most common forms of COPD are:
Emphysema: In this type of COPD, the air sacs of the lungs are damaged, causing the destruction of walls and leading to the formation of one giant air sac which cannot absorb oxygen in the required quantity, causing lack of oxygen in the blood. Damaged air sac also stresses the lungs, making them stretch out, lose their springiness; this causes the airways to become flabby with air trapped inside the lungs, leading to breathlessness.
Chronic Bronchitis: In this condition, the hair-like fibres that line the bronchial tube helping the mucus to move out – are lost. The loss of these hair-like fibres known as cilia then makes it harder for the body to get rid of the mucus, leading to cough and shortness of breath. The easiest symptoms of chronic bronchitis are excessive coughing, breathlessness, and mucus that lasts for more than 3 months consistently over two years.
Refractory Asthma: This is non-irreversible asthma which does not respond to normal medications. It causes a condition where the bronchial airways tighten up and swell permanently and cannot be healed with any asthma medications.
Causes of COPD
The main cause of COPD is tobacco smoking including cigarette smoking, cigar-smoking, pipe smoke, and even second-hand smoke. A person with asthma becomes even more prone to COPD if they smoke.
Another cause of COPD is the inhaling of burning fuel from cooking and heating in houses, which tends to accumulate in the lungs due to lack of proper ventilation.
Moreover, certain other factors put one at risk for COPD, such as:
- Exposure of irritant chemicals and gases at the workplace
- Exposure to excessive pollution and dust
That said, these factors harm the natural process of inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, they damage the natural elasticity of the bronchial tubes and the air sacs leading to air being trapped in the lungs, causing shortness of breath and coughing.
Symptoms of COPD
The symptoms of COPD increase over time, they could be mild at first and intensify as the disease continues to progress.
Mild symptoms for COPD can include:
- Recurrent coughing
- Shortness of breath (more after physical activity)
- Mild throat aches especially upon waking up
Intermediate stage of COPD shows symptoms such as:
- Tightness in chest
- Excessive difficulty in breathing
- Chronic and consistent coughing
- Excess sputum production
- Need to clear mucus from lungs daily
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Recurrent flu and respiratory problems
Symptoms of later stages of COPD include:
- Excessive fatigue
- Swollen foot, ankle or legs
- Unexplained weight loss
- Constant lack of energy and tiredness
Symptoms that depict the need for emergency medical care:
- Blue or grey fingernails
- Blue or grey lips
- Problem while talking
- Difficulty in breathing
- Pacing heartbeats
- Loss of consciousness
The intensity of these symptoms vary from person-to-person, however, these symptoms worsen if the person is asthmatic or smokes.
Diagnosis of COPD
There is no particular test to determine COPD; however, the doctor will evaluate all the symptoms with the existing health issues and analyze the condition. He will assess the functioning of the lungs and also conduct a few tests to arrive at conclusions, such as:
- Imaging tests such as an X-ray or CT scan.
- Arterial blood gas test
Treatment of COPD
In spite of being such a dreaded and incurable health problem, awareness about COPD is very low. Many people suffering from COPD are not even aware of it and have not got any diagnosis or medications to keep the symptoms under control. One thing that can change this is proper knowledge about COPD, its causes, symptoms, as well as treatment.
Few treatment options for COPD patients that can help ease symptoms and improve the quality of life:
Medication: The doctor will prescribe medications to soothe and widen the airways to make breathing more comfortable. The medications vary per case.
Oxygen Therapy: For patients that suffer a lack of oxygen, supplemental oxygen can be provided via masks or nasal cannula. These are also portable.
Surgery: Surgery is the last resort when all medications have failed. Surgeries could involve removing large air spaces from the lungs; removing damaged upper lung tissue or in worst cases transplantation of the lung.
Lifestyle Changes: The most important treatment for COPD is to bring certain lifestyle changes that can help soothe COPD. The changes involve quitting smoking; staying away from second-hand smoke; keeping away from hazardous and toxic gases and chemicals; staying away from excessive pollution; eating a healthy diet, and exercising as per doctors’ recommendations.
COPD need lifelong disease management. Hence, proper medical care and doctor’s consultation on methods to soothe the symptoms and lead to a better quality of life should be taken and followed.