Sadly, I have firsthand experience being around someone suffering from COPD. From the time I was a small child, my mother, sister and I lived with my father, who suffered from emphysema, a form of COPD. Seeing someone suffering for years leaves a deep impression on a person’s mind. Like many people who have COPD, he died of the condition, on June 9, 2000. He was only 49.
What is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a lung condition that develops over time, making it hard for people to breath. Breathing capacity decreases because airways and air sacs lose their elasticity and air sac walls deteriorate or because the walls become inflamed and thick. The two main form of COPD include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
People suffering from COPD experience coughing and congestion, produce large amounts of mucus, wheeze, have tight chests, and suffer from other respiratory symptoms. Currently, there is no cure for this condition; however, doctors try making patients comfortable. Doctors outline distinct risk factors for COPD.
Emphysema v. Bronchitis
Although emphysema and bronchitis are forms of COPD, they affect the lungs in different ways. Emphysema occurs when air sac can longer change carbon dioxide into oxygen in the blood. Air sac walls become thin and weak, leaving permanent holes in lung tissue. Because lungs can no longer retract, people with emphysema experience shortness of breath.
Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, does not occur because of thinning of the air sac walls. This form of COPD results from inflammation and scarring of the bronchial tubes linings. The inflammation closes the pipes, which prevents air from flowing in and out of the lungs efficiently. Large amounts of mucus production results from this infection, and sufferers become more susceptible to bacterial infections.
The dominant risk factor for contracting this life-threatening condition is cigarette smoking. The American Academy of Family Physicians says that, in the United States, approximately 12 million people are diagnosed with COPD, most of these individual being smokers. It usually takes about 20 years of cigarette smoking to contract this condition.
My father, though, only smoked in his late teens and quit by his early twenties. However, before he reached 30 years old, he was diagnosed with emphysema. The American Lung Association says that, when doctors detect chronic lung conditions in 20 and 30 year olds, they usually have a genetic defect making them susceptible to COPD and other respiratory condition.
Other risk factors include inhaling secondhand smoke, working around industrial pollutants like dust and chemicals, childhood respiratory ailment, and a genetic disposition for COPD. Although people only think of cigarette smoking when considering serious lung conditions, even cigars increases people’s risk for contracting COPD. It is best to avoid all of the risk factors if possible.
As mentioned earlier, there are no cures for COPD; however, a mixture of lifestyle changes and medical intervention helps sufferers live a more comfortable life. One of the first lines of defense is smoking cessation. People who stop smoking even after their diagnoses live longer than people who continue smoking. If possible, they should try to avoid other smokers and pollutants as much as possible. Because COPD sufferers often experience weight loss, they should make sure they eat balanced, healthy diets, even drinking things like Ensure if they need extra nutrients. They also need to protect themselves from colds and flu because these ailments lead to long hospitalizations or even death.
Doctors provide other treatment options for patients with COPD. Many of these people have oxygen tanks at home to make sure that they have adequate amounts of this gas flowing through their bodies. Doctors also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to reduce inflammation, bronchodilators to relax airway muscles, and antibiotics to reduce mucus production.
People with serious cases of COPD can get a surgical procedure called a lung volume reduction, which removes damaged lung tissue and helps undamaged portions of lungs function. Patients can also get lung transplants; however, many doctors will not present this option if a patient has become too weak for the procedure. If surgery is not an option, doctors can only make patients comfortable until the inevitable end.
COPD causes irreparable damage to the lungs, reducing quality of life. The best way to protect yourself from COPD is not smoking in the first place and staying away from people who smoke and pollutants, if possible. This condition causes lots of physical and psychological pain for the person suffering from it. Family and friends also feel stressed as they watch someone they care for who could die at any moment.