Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: COPD is an umbrella term for a number of diseases, including chronic bronchitis (also known as emphysema) and emphysema. The airways are clogged by mucus in both conditions, making it difficult to breathe. The lungs’ air sacs enlarge, rupture and become clogged with mucus. This makes it difficult to get oxygen into the bloodstream. 

COPD symptoms develop slowly and over time. People often do not realise that they have it until everyday activities like walking up the stairs become difficult. COPD is caused by long-term exposure of dust or pollution. Other factors include age, smoking, inhaling smoke from others, and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiencies.

It is important that you see your GP as soon as you suspect you may have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Early treatment can help to reduce symptoms and even prevent flare-ups. You will be asked about your symptoms, your family history, and a physical examination may include taking your pulse and listening to your chest. Imaging tests such as chest x-rays or CT scans may be ordered to examine your blood vessels and lungs more closely. A blood test may be ordered to determine your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

You may experience more frequent attacks and notice that your phlegm is thick and discoloured. Even when you are resting, it may be difficult to breathe. You may need assistance with everyday tasks such as washing or dressing. Your doctor may suggest a supplemental tank if they feel that your medication is not providing enough oxygen.

NYU Langone’s pulmonologists (pulmonary specialists) offer a variety of medications to help ease your symptoms or prevent them from getting worse. They are called bronchodilators and work by relaxing your muscles around the airways. Inhalers or pills can be used to inhale the mist into your lungs. Some of them are quick-acting, and provide “rescue” relief for symptoms. Others are taken regularly to reduce symptoms or prevent flare-ups. These drugs are sometimes combined with corticosteroids that reduce inflammation of the lungs.

Some COPD patients who are unable to be treated with medication will need surgery in order to remove the large air pockets (bullae), which accumulate in the lungs. It can help improve breathing but is only recommended in a few cases. The procedure is done under general anaesthesia at a hospital.

COPD is not curable and lung damage cannot be reversed. You can slow down the progression of COPD by quitting smoking, improving diet, getting enough exercise, taking prescribed medications, avoiding respiratory infection, and going through pulmonary rehab to increase your level of activity without feeling short of breath. Join a support group and have regular medical checkups.