Each one of us does something constantly with little or no thought about the process. We draw air down our windpipes which, in turn, branch into bronchioles, which end in small air sacs or alveoli. Capillaries, or small blood vessels, run through the alveoli where fresh oxygen and waste gas are exchanged. To do this, our alveoli must be stretchy so when we breathe in, the sacs fill like balloons. When we exhale, our alveoli deflate.
Most of us perform this action with no difficulty whatsoever. The only times we are aware of it are when we swim, practice mindfulness meditation, or come down with a cold. Some people are much more aware of this activity because they suffer with COPD.
A COPD sufferer experiences at least one of these symptoms:
The airways have more than normal mucus which clogs breathing.
The airways and alveoli lose much of their elasticity.
The walls of the airways become inflamed and thicker.
The walls between many of the alveoli are destroyed.
COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease includes chronic bronchitis or emphysema. Most COPD sufferers have both conditions. With chronic bronchitis, the bronchial and bronchiole tubes have become constantly irritated and inflamed which causes the excess mucus. This makes it difficult to breathe normally. Emphysema is where the walls of the alveoli have been damaged and lose their shapes. There are fewer and larger alveoli causing the amount of air exchange to be severely reduced.
COPD is a condition that slowly and progressively develops. The symptoms become worse as time goes on. Eventually COPD limits the sufferers’ ability to perform routine activity. COPD often shows up in middle-age and elderly adults. This disease is a major cause of disability and is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Many people might have the early stages of COPD and not even be aware of it.
So far, there are no known ways to reverse the damage of COPD, nor is there a cure. COPD can only be treated with technology and medicine. Lifestyle changes are usually recommended to enable sufferers to remain active and feel better.
Better yet is prevention. Since tobacco smoking is the leading cause of COPD, not smoking or quitting cigarettes are the wisest choices. Other causes include long-term exposure to air pollution, dust, or airborn occupational hazards such as chemical fumes. Face masks and/or filtering systems are a big help with these lung irritants.
How can a person know if she or he is coming down with COPD? You can suspect its presence with chronic coughing, mucus that is coughed up, wheezing, shortness of breath, or feelings of weakness during mild activity. If you are or have been a cigarette smoker or work in a dusty or toxic chemical environment, you are a prime candidate.
COPD is a condition that should never be ignored. As the disease progresses, sufferers find regular activities such as eating and exercising becoming difficult. The body, as a whole becomes much weaker. The longer the disease lasts, the more chances that severe symptoms can suddenly flare up and worsen. The term for this is “COPD Exacerbation”. These flare-ups can range from frightening to life-threatening.
This is National COPD Month. Now is the time to learn more about this dangerous condition. If you suspect you or a loved one may have COPD, it’s time to learn more and see your physician. COPD is serious and requires professional treatment and therapy.