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COPD Message from Pulmonary Care Associates

By Harbor View Medical Services, PC


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a group of lung conditions or diseases that block airflow and make breathing difficult. COPD generally starts off mild, but progressively gets worse over time. Chronic lower respiratory disease — of which COPD is the biggest component — is the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Types of COPD

There are two main types of COPD: emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

In emphysema, the alveoli (air sacs in the lungs) become damaged, causing them to lose their elasticity. The walls of the alveoli can also rupture, reducing the overall surface area of the lungs. This in turn reduces the amount of oxygen that can enter the bloodstream and the amount of carbon dioxide that can be exhaled. Additionally, emphysema makes it difficult for people to fully exhale because the alveolar walls are no longer able to hold open the breathing tubes when you breathe out.

With chronic bronchitis, the lining of the breathing tubes becomes irritated and inflamed. This causes the airway lining to thicken and produce a lot of mucus (phlegm), which interferers with normal breathing. Most people with COPD suffer from both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, according to the NHLBI. Refractory asthma, which is non-reversible, is also considered part of COPD, as are some forms of bronchiectasis, an abnormal scarring of the airways.

5 Ways to Prevent COPD

Healthy lifestyle habits can help you keep your lungs healthy:

  1. Stop smoking. Number one, of course, is to eliminate your smoking risk. If you have never smoked, don't start. If you are still smoking, stop now. If you have trouble stopping, ask your doctor for help. There are many effective medications and smoking cessation programs that work.
  2. Avoid secondhand smoke. There is plenty of research that shows secondhand smoke adds to the risk of COPD. According to the World Health Organization, 10 percent of smoking-related deaths are due to secondhand smoke.
  3. Avoid air pollution. In third world countries, smoke from cooking over wood fires is a major cause of COPD. In the United States, dust, smoke from unventilated wood stoves, and smoke from burning biomass may contribute to the condition.
  4. Avoid occupational exposures. Miners who work with cadmium and gold have an increased risk of COPD. Other occupational exposures linked to the condition include coal dust, chemical fumes, concrete dust, mineral dust, and cotton or grain dusts.
  5. Know your family history. There must be some genetic component that increases the risk for COPD because some people with a family history get the condition earlier and more severely.

COPD Symptoms: When to Talk to Your Doctor

Now that you know the risks, you need to know the symptoms. COPD symptoms include a cough that produces lots of mucous (smoker's cough), shortness of breath (especially during exercise), wheezing, and tightness in your chest. You may also notice more frequent chest colds that take longer to get over than before. The symptoms tend to get worse over time.

Dr. Mario Solomita from Harbor View's Pulmonary Care Associates stated, "There are many treatment options to help patients with COPD. The goals of our patients are to enjoy an active lifestyle by helping their breathing, preventing infections, and keep them out of the hospital for exacerbations."

Here are some good reasons to talk to your doctor about COPD and lung health:

  • You are a smoker or former smoker over age 40.
  • You have persistent COPD symptoms.
  • You have a history of exposure to second-hand smoke or air pollution, or have worked with chemicals or dusts that may cause lung damage.

COPD is a deadly condition. Men and women who smoke are 12 to 13 times more likely to die from the condition than people who have never smoked. You can eliminate your smoking risks by not starting or stopping as soon as you can. If you have COPD symptoms or think you are at risk, talk to your doctor about your lung health.

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