Simply put, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, known as COPD, steals your breath. Worse yet, it is a progressive disease that develops over time and has no cure.
Nearly 15 million adults have been diagnosed with COPD and estimates indicate there may be another 12 million people with the disease who remain undiagnosed. Additionally,
- Cigarette smoking causes 80-90 percent of all COPD cases.
- Occupational exposure to industrial pollutants is responsible for approximately 20 percent of COPD cases.
The disease includes two lung problems, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Both of these conditions cause the lungs to lose their elasticity and as a result, their ability to function correctly.
COPD can make walking a few steps feel like running a marathon. Stairs become nearly impossible to climb and wearing an oxygen tube quickly becomes a way of life. Anyone suffering with COPD struggles to take care of the activities of daily life. For those who are accustomed to living an active life, COPD is tantamount to being held prisoner.
November is COPD Awareness Month and a good opportunity to understand how you might help someone coping with this breathless disease.
Managing COPD requires a health care team:
- A primary care physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner can diagnose the disease.
- A pulmonologist is the specialist who will help care for the disease.
- A pharmacist can fill the prescriptions and help to ensure that the medications are appropriate.
- A respiratory therapist works in hospitals and/or travels to the patient’s home. They will educate the patient about COPD, how to manage the condition, and help with oxygen needs.
Unique to COPD is something called “exacerbations.” This is when the disease flares up, usually due to a viral or bacterial lung infection. It happens suddenly, signalled by the presence of COPD symptoms that are much worse than usual. Exacerbations can last days or weeks, require antibiotics, other oral medications, and sometimes hospitalization. When it becomes clear that the patient is experiencing an exacerbation, call the health care provider immediately.
There are ways to avoid the triggers that can cause an exacerbation:
- Get a flu shot.
- Ask if a pneumonia shot is required.
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water to help stop the spread of infection.
- Take medications as prescribed and at the same time every day.
- Stay away from anyone with the flu, a cold or a sore throat.
- Keep the health care team aware of any new COPD symptoms.
- Get a COPD checklist, keep it filled out, and take it to health care appointments.
- Keep family and friends informed about the progression of the disease and don’t hesitate to ask them for help!