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What is COPD and How is it Treated?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is mainly made up of four respiratory diseases that have similar symptoms but different causes.

COPD Symptoms

There are multiple symptoms that exist within the COPD spectrum of disorders, and a patient can experience any number of them.

Symptoms may include:

  • Increased shortness of breath, especially with activity
  • Chronic cough (with or without mucus)
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Wheezing
  • Excess mucus production
  • Barrel chest (over-sized) caused from trapped air in the lungs
  • Blue tint to lips or fingernails

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic Bronchitis is the inflammation and tightening of the bronchial tubes. The primary symptom is a persistent, long-term cough. Symptoms can lessen with treatment, but never completely go away.

Emphysema

Emphysema is related to the gradual breakdown of the air sacs within the lungs where oxygen diffuses into the bloodstream and carbon dioxide diffuses out. This causes a decrease of oxygen in the blood and an increase in carbon dioxide. Because a build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood is the primary reason why people get short of breath, people with emphysema get winded very easily with minimal activity.

Chronic Asthma

Chronic Asthma occurs when the airways narrow, swell, and produce excess mucus. Breathing symptoms are often triggered by airborne allergens, but sometimes can be caused by strenuous exercise or even laughing and crying.

Bronchiectasis

Bronchiectasis is a disease in which pockets develop in the airways that collect mucus. This mucus cannot be coughed up easily so it sits in these pockets and becomes stagnate, growing harmful bacteria. The disorder can be acquired at birth, or can develop over time in combination with COPD.  Bronchiectasis can also occur as a result of auto immune disorders or leukemia. Patients are prone to frequent respiratory infections, shortness of breath, and fatigue.

Living With COPD

COPD diseases are each treated similarly and individually. There is not a “one-size-fits-all” method for treating its many different symptoms. Since the number one cause of COPD is smoking, patients who smoke are greatly encouraged to quit. They are also encouraged to avoid things that trigger symptoms, such as perfumes, molds, pollens, or house hold cleaners. Receiving the flu and pneumonia vaccines are also important.

Although oxygen therapy has not been demonstrated in long-term clinical studies to extend the life of those who use it to treat lung disease, it has been proven to enhance their overall quality of life. Oxygen therapy, when used as prescribed, allows patients to be more active with less shortness of breath. Having an adequate level of oxygen in the blood also helps all vital organs function at their fullest potential.

There are other therapies available for COPD patients. Respiratory therapy provides relief from airway obstruction due to swelling and excessive mucus production. Physical therapy can help with breathing exercises, and maintaining healthy activity through fitness. Occupational therapy is used to identify any assistive equipment that may be needed to help with breathing. Speech Language Therapy is also used for those who may be experiencing swallowing or aspiration issues.

While there may be many difficulties when living with COPD, for both patients and their families, there are many resources and services available to help lead a more productive, higher quality of life.  Kingston’s team of respiratory specialists  are able to treat residents in our Assisted Living facilities, as well as patients who may require rehabilitation after hospitalization.