COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This is the name used to describe a number of conditions including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema affects the air sacs in your lungs (alveoli), and chronic bronchitis affects your airways (bronchi). If you have COPD, you might have just one of these conditions, or you might have more than one. COPD is a condition where the airways become inflamed and the air sacs in your lungs are damaged. This causes your airways to become narrower, which makes it harder to breathe in and out. Therefore, people with COPD have breathing difficulties, and this can affect many aspects of your day-today life.
The main cause of COPD is smoking – the condition usually affects people over the age of 40 and who are, or have been smokers. It can also be caused by long-term exposure to biomass fuel exposure, air pollution, fumes and dust from the environment or your place of work.
What are the symptoms of COPD?
The first symptom of mild COPD is an early morning cough that may produce phlegm (a smoker’s cough). You may also have shortness of breath. As the condition gets worse, wheezing becomes more of a problem and everyday activities will make you more breathless than usual. If you have severe COPD, you will get breathless with the slightest activity, or even while resting.
To confirm that you have COPD, you will need to take a breathing test to measure the size of your lungs, and to measure the amount of air flowing in and out of your lungs. This is called a spirometry test.
There is no cure for COPD, but a lot can be done to relieve your symptoms. Stopping smoking at any stage of the disease will help reduce your cough and phlegm. Drugs called bronchodilators open up the narrowed airways and make it easier for you to breathe. Your doctor may prescribe these for you to take with an inhaler, or in some cases, as a nebulizer. Inhaled steroids have been shown to reduce the frequency of exacerbations and are prescribed for patients with more severe COPD. Antibiotics and steroid courses are useful for acute exacerbations. Other treatment options include long term oxygen therapy and non-invasive ventilation. Newer treatment modalities include lung volume reduction surgery and lung transplantation.
- Try to stop smoking completely and avoid second-hand smoke
- Get an influenza vaccine every autumn.
- Try to do some gentle exercise every day. Ask your doctor for advice.
- A chest physiotherapist and your doctor can help to reduce severe breathlessness. You should always inform them if you are having breathing problems. There are breathing techniques and medications that can help to make you feel more comfortable.