COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. It is a condition that affects mainly older people over 60, whose lungs have become damaged over several years mainly due to smoking. In COPD there is a build up of mucus which narrows the passages of the airways. There is also damage to the little air sacs in the lungs (the alveoli) as they can no longer stretch properly, making it harder for air to fill and empty from the lungs. These two factors combined cause the breathing difficulties associated with COPD, however there are ways to try and slow the progression of COPD to improve your quality of life. It is important to note there is no cure for COPD, as no treatment can reverse the damage that has been done to the lungs.
The single most important thing you can do to slow the progression of COPD is to quit smoking, if you haven’t already done so. It’s never too late to quit, and quitting smoking is more effective than any medication at improving lung functioning. It can be very difficult to quit smoking, particularly if you have been a long term smoker. Ask your doctor for advice on ways to quit, or for further information visit Smokefree.
If you have been diagnosed with COPD, your doctor may recommend a pulmonary rehabilitation program. These are designed to help people with lung diseases live better quality lives. These programs involve education and advice on exercise and nutrition; as well as counselling on how to cope with COPD. The specialists involved in these programs will tailor a rehabilitation program to your needs, which can help to significantly improve your quality of life so you can keep doing the things you enjoy.
Medications are available on prescription to help relieve the symptoms of COPD and improve your quality of life. The most commonly used medications are inhaled bronchodilators, which help to open up the airways when you have shortness of breath. These may be used when needed (short acting bronchodilators), or used on a daily basis for continual relief (long acting bronchodilators). Inhaled corticosteroids may be used to help reduce inflammation in the airways, relieving shortness of breath. These may be used for flare ups (when symptoms are bad) or on a daily basis in patients with more severe symptoms.
Respiratory infections can cause major complications for COPD patients; therefore preventing these types of infections is preferred over trying to treat them. It is essential for COPD patients to receive the influenza vaccination and pneumococcal vaccination. Experiencing these infections can cause problems such as breathing difficulties and further damage to the lungs. Antibiotics are used when necessary to aggressively treat respiratory bacterial infections in COPD patients, to minimise any further potential damage to the airways.
If you have severe COPD, you may require oxygen therapy to help you live longer, improve your symptoms, prevent organ damage and improve your quality of life. Oxygen may be administered continuously, or just for a certain amount of time each day. Surgery may be an option for some people with severe COPD, if your symptoms are not controlled despite the use of medications. This has several risks and is generally a last resort.
There are several other measures that you can take to cope better with your COPD. These include the following:
*Avoiding air irritants – smoke (direct or passive, air pollution, cold or dry air
*Taking breaks when performing activities to avoid getting out of breath
* Exercising regularly to keep the body, heart and lungs as strong as possible
*Eating well to maintain the body’s energy levels to cope with the disease
*Having a plan for flare ups – patients should discuss with their doctor what to do in a situation where their symptoms suddenly worsen.
In summary, quitting smoking is the single most effective way to slow the progression of COPD. Avoiding respiratory infections, taking medications and participating in pulmonary rehabilitation programs will help to improve your quality of life, but nothing at this stage can stop the progression of COPD. For more information on COPD, visit WebMD.
This article is of a general nature and in no way should be seen as a substitute for your own doctor’s or health professional’s advice. The author accepts no responsibility for loss occasioned to any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of the published information. Before commencing any health treatment, always consult your doctor.