What is COPD?
COPD is a progressive and chronic inflammatory disease of your lungs. The condition leads to obstructed airflow from the lungs making it harder for you to breathe.
Common Forms of COPD
There are two common forms of COPD.
- Chronic bronchitis: This form involves inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes that carry air to and from your lungs. The condition develops over time and is characterised by a long-lasting cough and mucus production.
- Emphysema: This is a condition where the air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs weaken over time and eventually break, resulting in the hindrance of outward airflow. You will suffer from shortness of breath, coughing, and exhaustion.
If you have COPD, you are likely to experience both these conditions.
Causes of COPD
The topmost contributor of COPD is tobacco smoking. The other factors include long-term exposure to:
- Chemical irritants or fumes
- Irritating gases or particulate matters
- Fumes from burning fuel
- Air pollution
- Industrial dust
Who are at Risk of Developing COPD?
You are at risk of developing COPD if you:
- Smoke cigarettes long-term
- Expose yourself to secondhand smoke frequently
- Are a pipe, cigar or marijuana smoker
- Have asthma, but continue smoking
- Are 40 years and older when the symptoms begin
- Suffer from a genetic disorder called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency
COPD is a condition that takes a long time to develop. Sometimes, you may not able to notice the progressing COPD until the lungs are damaged significantly. Symptoms of COPD may vary from person to person and can be mild initially but will get progressively worse over time.
The common symptoms of COPD are:
- Breathing difficulty (especially during physical activities)
- Frequent cold or respiratory infections
- A chronic cough with or without white or yellow mucus
- Excess mucus production and wheezing
- Tightness in the chest
- Bluish or grey lips or fingernails (cyanosis)
- Lack of energy and signs of fatigue
- A feeling of confusion, muddling, and faintness
- Unintended weight loss (in advanced stages)
- Swelling in legs, ankles or feet
There is no single test to detect COPD. The diagnosis will begin with a physical examination, based on which, your doctor will order the following tests to get a complete picture of the condition.
- Spirometry / lung function test: It is a noninvasive test to assess lung function
- Imaging test: This includes X-ray of the chest or CT scan
- Arterial blood gas test: This is done to measure your blood oxygen and carbon dioxide
These diagnostic tests will help your doctor to determine the degree of COPD.
Complications of COPD
COPD is known to disturb the airflow to and from the lungs. If untreated, the condition can lead to faster progression of the disease and eventually result in severe respiratory infections, depression, increased risk of heart diseases and lung cancer.
Treatments for COPD
COPD has no cure but is treatable and manageable. The treatment will ease symptoms, reduce the chance of complications, lower the risk of other associated conditions and improve the quality of your life.
Treatments for COPD include but are not limited to the following:
- Lifestyle changes
- Medications / vaccinations
- Supplemental oxygen therapy
- Surgery (for severe COPD)
- Lung transplantation (very rarely)
Though COPD requires longterm management, the first and best way to prevent COPD is to avoid anything that might harm your lungs or cause a flare-up of already overtaxed lungs. For example, you can quit smoking, or use respiratory protection masks to guard against fumes, dust, etc. Following your doctor’s advice will go a long way in keeping your lungs healthy.