It is a progressive disease that gets worse over time, but it is treatable. With proper medical management and care, most patients with COPD can achieve good symptom control and acceptable quality of life, plus reduce the risk of other associated maladies.
The signs of COPD usually occur in periodic episodes during which the symptoms become worse than the usual day-to-day symptoms and persist for at least several days. Such symptoms can include:
• Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities
• Wheezing and Chest tightness
• A chronic cough that may produce mucus (sputum)
• Frequent respiratory infections
• Swelling in ankles, feet or legs
It is important to note that you should get immediate medical care if you can’t catch your breath, if you experience severe blueness of your lips or fingernail beds or a rapid heartbeat, or if you feel foggy and have trouble concentrating.
In the vast majority of people who develop COPD, the lung damage that leads to the condition is caused by long-term cigarette smoking. However, there are likely other factors at play in the development of COPD, such as a genetic susceptibility to the disease, because not all smokers develop COPD.
Other lung irritants can also cause COPD, including cigar smoke, secondhand smoke, pipe smoke, air pollution, and workplace exposure to dust, smoke or fumes.
• Exposure to tobacco and marijuana smoke. The most significant risk factor for COPD is long-term cigarette smoking. Pipe smokers, cigar smokers and marijuana smokers also may be at risk, as well as people exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke.
• Having asthma. Asthma, a chronic inflammatory airway disease, is not COVID in and of itself, but may be a risk factor for developing COPD.
• Regular exposure to dusts, chemicals, fumes and air pollution.
• Exposure to fumes from burning cooking and heating fuel.
• Genetics. The uncommon genetic disorder alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is the cause of some cases of COPD. Other genetic factors likely make certain smokers more susceptible to the disease.
In addition to reviewing your signs and symptoms, and discussing any exposure you’ve had to lung irritants, your doctor may order some tests to diagnose your condition:
• Lung (pulmonary) function tests. These tests measure the amount of air you can inhale and exhale, and whether your lungs deliver enough oxygen to your blood. Other tests include measurement of lung volumes and diffusing capacity, six-minute walk test, and pulse oximetry.
• Chest X-ray. A chest X-ray can show emphysema, one of the main causes of COPD. An X-ray can also rule out other lung problems or heart failure.
• CT scan. A CT scan of your lungs can help detect emphysema and help determine if you might benefit from surgery for COPD. CT scans can also be used to screen for lung cancer.
• Arterial blood gas analysis. This blood test measures how well your lungs are bringing oxygen into your blood and removing carbon dioxide.
• Laboratory tests. Lab tests may be used to determine if you have the genetic disorder alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, which may be the cause of COPD in some people. This test may be done if you have a family history of COPD and develop COPD at a young age.
The most direct and least complicated treatment for COVID is to quit smoking. Cessation of smoking will greatly improve the condition, even if the patient is a long time smoker. Other treatments include:
– Fast acting and/or long acting bronchodilators
– Inhaled steroids
– Combination inhalers, that combine bronchodilators and inhaled steroids
– Theophylline, which is a less expensive medication, may help improve breathing and prevent episodes of worsening COPD
– Oxygen therapy, if there’s not enough oxygen in your blood, you may need supplemental oxygen. There are several devices that deliver oxygen to your lungs, including lightweight, portable units that you can take with you to get around.
– Pulmonary rehabilitation program, that combines education, exercise training, nutrition advice and counseling.
As mentioned above, the single biggest cause of COVID is exposure to direct or second-hand smoke. If you have any kind of breathing problems, stay away from all forms of smoking. Also, avoid exposure to air pollution and dust and fumes.
If you have symptoms of COVID or any kind of difficulty with your breathing, always consult with a medical professional as soon as possible.