The Right Diagnosis and Treatment of COPD
Can Help you Breathe Easy
Take a deep breath. Do you feel tightness in your chest or shortness of breath? Do you often wheeze or cough up mucus? Do you smoke or have you ever smoked cigarettes? Do you spend a lot of time with people who smoke? Do you get respiratory infections frequently?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s probably a good idea to get tested for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). COPD encompasses several diseases — mainly chronic bronchitis and emphysema — and is the fourth leading cause of death in America.
Talk to your doctor about COPD. It could be a breath of fresh air.
Since COPD is often under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed, develops gradually, and is so common, it’s important to understand the two types of COPD. It’s most common to have a combination of the two:
- Chronic Bronchitis is the inflammation and eventual scarring of the lining of the bronchial tubes. This restricts airflow to and from the lungs, which produces heavy mucus and phlegm. The mucus-lined tubes are an ideal breeding place for bacterial infections. People with chronic bronchitis are sometimes called “blue bloaters” because of their bluish-colored skin and lips. Blue bloaters often take deeper breaths but can’t take in the right amount of oxygen.
- Emphysema is the destruction of the fragile air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs, where oxygen from the air is exchanged for carbon dioxide in the blood, according to the American Lung Association. This causes permanent holes in the elastic tissue of the lungs, resulting in shortness of breath and difficulty exhaling. Emphysema comes on very gradually and is irreversible. People with emphysema are sometimes called “pink puffers” because they have difficulty catching their breath and their faces redden while gasping for air.
Talk to your doctor about being tested for COPD if you have any of these symptoms. Many people with COPD experience:
- Shortness of breath when resting
- Coughing every day, wheezing
- Coughing up mucus (especially in the mornings)
- Chest infections that last more than two weeks
COPD can’t be cured and is irreversible, but early detection and treatment can make managing the disease much easier. If you experience COPD symptoms, talk to your doctor about spirometry testing; it is as easy as blowing up a balloon and can go a long way in helping you breathe better. This simple, non-invasive test measures the amount of air you can breathe out in a short period of time, shows how well your lungs are working and helps your doctor determine the appropriate level of treatment, if necessary.
A spirometry test is the only test that can confirm COPD. Early detection can help make managing the disease much easier.
More than 85 percent of COPD cases are due to smoking tobacco
Other causes of COPD include second-hand or environmental smoke, asthma, prolonged exposure to dust and chemicals, frequent respiratory infections, or a rare genetic condition, according to the National Lung Health Education Program. The best way to help prevent COPD is not to smoke.
It’s important to note that asthma and COPD are not the same thing. Although both affect the lungs, they are different conditions and need different treatments. COPD often develops after age 40; asthma can start at any age, often during childhood. COPD is a long-lasting disease that usually gets worse over time; asthma attacks come and go. COPD is often caused by smoking or long-term exposure to pollution or chemicals; asthma is caused by a sensitivity to food, pollen or some drugs, or because of a family history of asthma. Talk to your doctor if you think you have one of these diseases or to ensure that you’re being treated for the right condition.
With the right diagnosis and treatment, most people with COPD can live a normal, active life. To reduce your chances of developing COPD, don’t smoke.
MOST HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS COVER LIFESAVING PREVENTATIVE TESTS. USE THE HEALTH BENEFITS YOU ARE ALREADY PAYING FOR TO GET SCREENED! As a community-based health center, Hamakua-Kohala Health provides comprehensive primary and preventative healthcare to persons of all ages, regardless of their ability to pay or health insurance status.