Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic, progressive disease that is often caused by long-term exposure to lung irritants. This disease is a result of decreased air flow in and out of the lungs due to one or more of the following: airways lose their elasticity, the walls between the air sacs are destroyed, the airways thicken and become inflamed, and/or the airways have increased production of mucus which can clog them. COPD usually causes coughing along with the production of large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms.
The causes of COPD have been extensively studied, and it is no surprise that smoking is at the top of the list. Smoking, frequent exposure to air pollutants, secondhand smoke, and chemical fumes have all been linked to causing COPD.
With that being said, smoking cessation and avoiding harmful fumes are some of the best steps you can take to slowing the progression of this disease and improve your breathing. Because COPD is a progressive disease, it is especially important for patients to take their medications as they are prescribed by a doctor. The medications used to control/treat COPD are usually inhaled bronchodilators and corticosteroids. It is important for these medications to be used regularly, not just when a “flare up” occurs in order to get the best outcomes possible.
Not only does COPD directly affect one’s ability to breathe, it also puts these patients at higher risk for other respiratory conditions. Influenza and pneumonia, especially, are two of the most common co-conditions seen in patients with COPD. Fortunately, there are vaccinations to help prevent you from ever getting the flu or pneumonia! It is recommended for all persons with COPD to get their flu shot each year, and get their pneumonia vaccine as recommended by their health care provider. Managing chronic conditions like COPD can be challenging, but it is important to stay educated about the disease and how to manage it appropriately.
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