COPD — A Matter of Life & Breath!

Image from Getty Images Pro

Have you ever had a blocked nose and reminisced about the times you could breathe easily? It’s only then you realize that you take proper breathing for granted.

Breathing is like that supporting character in romcoms, who is ‘nothing more than a friend’ to the main character. They are devoted to keeping the main protagonist happy (like breathing is ‘devoted’ to keeping you alive). But when they’re gone, our lead finally feels the void in their life, wondering why they ever took their friend for granted…

Well, imagine a romcom in which YOU are the lead and proper breathing is that friend you take for granted (take the liberty to choose any one as your love interest!). If THIS friend keeps a distance from you (that is, you have difficulties in breathing), your film won’t have a happy ending…you may experience chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

What’s COPD?

COPD affects airflow in the lungs, which causes long-term difficulties in breathing. The ‘C’ in COPD stands for chronic, meaning that the disease is a long-term one. The ‘O’ stands for obstructive, meaning that the flow of air into and out of the lungs gets blocked or obstructed. The two most common condition that fall under COPD are:

  • Emphysema — This happens when the air sacs (called alveoli) at the ends of the smallest air passages (called bronchioles) in the lungs get damaged.
  • Chronic bronchitis — This happens when the bronchial tubes become inflamed and narrowed. Thus, the bronchial tubes cannot efficiently carry air to and from the air sacs in your lungs.

COPD is a major global health problem. In 2019, COPD was the third leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. More than 3 million people die each year due to COPD.

COPD also can severely affect your quality of life because of its lifelong nature. Patients with COPD may also experience episodes called exacerbations, which is a sudden worsening of symptoms. This makes it difficult to do everyday activities, and can also strain the lives of your loved ones.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

COPD is progressive in nature. This means that people may not experience symptoms or have very mild symptoms during the early stages of the disease. Symptoms will worsen over time as lung damage becomes more severe. These are some of the signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Persistent cough
  • Producing a lot of phlegm or mucus when you cough
  • Shortness of breath, especially during physical tasks
  • Getting respiratory infections very often
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Wheezing
  • Lips or fingernail beds turning blue
  • Chest tightness
  • Swollen ankles, feet, or legs

If you think you experience any of these symptoms often, it’s best to consult a doctor as soon as you can. This could help avoid loss of valuable treatment time.

Are you at risk of COPD?

Both genetic and lifestyle-related factors can make you more vulnerable to COPD. Some of these factors are:

  • Cigarette smoking — This is the most significant risk factor for COPD. According to the American Lung Association, about 85–90% of COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking.
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke — Even if you don’t smoke, being around people who do can severely damage your lungs. Another reason to convince others to kick the habit!
  • Occupational exposure — If you work in an environment with chemical fumes, vapours, and dusts, these irritants can cause inflammation in your lungs.
  • Asthma — This long-term inflammatory airway disease can make you vulnerable to developing COPD. Patients who are both asthmatic and smokers are at even greater risk.
  • Genetics — COPD can also develop as a result of a genetic disorder that causes low levels of a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin. But this risk factor is very rare (only in about 1% of patients with COPD have this disorder).
Cigarette smoking accounts for most COPD cases (Image from pixabay)

How can you prevent COPD?

  • The most obvious way to prevent COPD is to quit smoking. The thousands of chemicals in tobacco smoke do unimaginable damage to your lungs. Talk to your doctor about quitting, or join a support group.
  • Avoid being around your friends or family members while they are smoking. You can always continue the conversation after they are done, it’s not worth the risk of harming your lungs.
  • If you work in an environment where you are frequently exposed to lung irritants, use protective equipment. This can significantly reduce your risk of COPD in the future.
  • Keeps your lungs healthy with good dietary practices and regular physical activity. Whole grains and fibre-rich foods have been shown to have beneficial effects on lung function. Exercise strengthens your lungs by making it work harder to supply additional oxygen to your muscles.

COPD is a devastating disease that can take over your life and cannot be cured. But it can be successfully managed with lifestyle changes and medications. Protect your lungs like your life depends on it, because it does!

Remember, the only person who can keep YOU the healthiest is YOU.

DISCLAIMER: Dr. YOU aims to bring you the latest evidence-based science, and our content is for informational purposes only. The content is not medical advice or guarantee of an outcome. You should always consult a doctor or qualified healthcare professional if you need further clarification and before making any changes to your treatment plans and lifestyle, or that of others.

Dr. YOU is a one-stop platform to address the health information needs of health consumers. Our goal is to arm people with the information necessary to make meaningful decisions regarding their health and nudge behaviour change.

With our combined experience of two decades in research and healthcare, we built the Dr. YOU platform around the WHO-endorsed “Best Buy” intervention design for preventing and managing chronic diseases.

Follow us on Medium (@drYOUofficial) and Instagram (@dr.YOU_official) for the latest content and updates.

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