COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a progressive disease found in the lungs that makes it difficult to breathe for patients suffering with it. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are included in COPD. COPD’s main feature is narrowed airways leading to air getting trapped inside the lungs, which become hyperinflated. According to the American Lung Association, it is the third leading cause of disease-related death in the United States and more than 15.3 million people suffer from COPD. It causes serious long-term disability and early death.
COPD symptoms, when presented at first, can be very mild. As time progresses, the symptoms can become worse. Things to look out for are an ongoing cough, coughing up mucus, shortness of breath, trouble breathing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, and many other symptoms that make everyday tasks more difficult. People suffering with COPD can have trouble getting dressed, walking up stairs, or any type of other physical exertion because of the symptoms caused by their COPD.
Smoking is the leading cause of COPD, however, it is still possible to have COPD even if a patient has never smoked. Other common causes of COPD are exposure to pollution and chemical fumes. While there is no cure for COPD, it is often preventable and can be treated. To best avoid developing COPD, do not smoke/stop smoking and stay away from all other toxic fumes that could affect the lungs.
Treatment for COPD can be handled through a pulmonologist, a doctor that specializes in treating lung disorders. Depending on the severity of the COPD, treatment options vary. These treatments range from an inhaler to possible surgeries. Bronchoscopic lung volume reduction is a newer treatment option available to some sufferers of COPD. This minimally-invasive procedure accesses the lungs through the mouth or nose using a bronchoscope. Endobronchial valves are placed in the airways to block any diseased part of the lung and reduce hyperinflation, which decreases shortness of breath and improves overall quality of life.
With proper treatment and changing daily habits, life can be made a little easier for a patient with COPD and can benefit the patient in the long run. Some simple lifestyle changes to relieve stress on the lungs is putting items that are used often in an easy-to-reach spot or moving items to the first floor of a residence to avoid excess trips up and down the stairs. These little changes decrease the stress put on the lungs, making it easier for the patient to breathe.
Wissam Abouzgheib, MD is the head of Interventional Pulmonary at Cooper University Health Care.