The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Living with a chronic lung disease, such as COPD, can present you with many challenges. From having difficulty performing daily tasks to trying to keep track of your treatment plan, understanding COPD can be challenging. Here are some important basics in this COPD spotlight.
What is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is an inflammatory and progressive form of lung disease, which ranges from mild to severe. COPD is characterized by restricted airflow into and out of the lungs, making breathing difficult. The two most common conditions which contribute to COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
What causes COPD?
Smoking is the main cause of COPD. The toxins in cigarette smoke destroy tissue and cause inflammation of the lungs. When tobacco products are inhaled into the lungs, passageways and air sacs are saturated and clogged. When exhaled, only some of the toxins leave the body.
For some people, an alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency—which decreases the production of a specific protein—causes COPD. Trypsin is an enzyme released by immune cells in the digestive tract and in the lungs, and it fights bacteria or digests food. However, people who are alpha-1-antitrypsin deficient cannot fight the destructive nature of the trypsin, leaving the lungs vulnerable to become progressively weakened.
COPD is also caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases, fumes and environmental pollutants. Typically, places where people could inhale such pollutants are in dense urban environments and near industrial complexes. Many of these pollutants are found in the working environments of coal miners, industrial workers, grain industry workers, military service members and welders, among others. These chemicals and environmental pollutants include coal dust, cotton dust, welding fumes, grain and flour dust, organic dusts and mineral dust.
What are the symptoms?
According to the Mayo Clinic, COPD symptoms often don’t appear until significant lung damage has occurred, and they typically worsen over time. Many people with COPD will likely experience symptom flare-ups also known as exacerbations. Other symptoms include the following:
- Chest tightness
- Lack of energy
- Shortness of breath
- Unintended weight loss
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Chronic cough that produces sputum
- Blueness of the lips or fingernail beds
What treatments are available?
Even though COPD cannot be cured, there are treatment options that may improve symptoms. Similar to people with pulmonary fibrosis, medications, oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation are all possible treatment options for people with COPD.
The most essential step in a COPD treatment plan is to stop smoking. However, quitting smoking isn’t easy, so talk with your doctor about ways to help you quit.
Many people take prescription medications to ease COPD symptoms. Some of these medications could be taken on a regular basis while others are used as needed. Combination inhalers, bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids as well as oral medications might be prescribed.
Another option is oxygen therapy. Here’s how oxygen therapy can help:
- Make breathing and exercising easier
- Improve your sleep and sense of well-being
- Lessen complications from low blood oxygen levels
- Reduce blood pressure in the right side of your heart
Pulmonary Rehabilitation is a treatment option used to help treat the disease, improve daily functioning and help people with COPD live satisfying lives. In pulmonary rehabilitation, the focus is typically on the following:
- Physical exercise to improve your endurance
- Breathing techniques that improve lung efficiency
- Nutritional counseling
- Counseling and support
Are there alternative treatment options?
Being active in your treatment plan and understanding your condition can help you recognize when you have questions or concerns. Addressing any questions or concerns you have with your physician can help you feel in better control of your health. Quitting smoking, eating a balanced and healthy diet, exercising, and staying vaccinated are other ways for you to take your health into your own hands.
Trying alternative therapies, such as stem cell therapy, along with your current treatment plan may improve your quality of life. For more information about how stem cell therapy could help promote healing and improve lung function in people with COPD, contact us at (800) 729-3065.