Sixteen million Americans suffer from diagnosed COPD, with millions more likely suffering from the effects but undiagnosed and untreated.
What Is COPD?
If your loved one suffers from breathing challenges, they could have COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). COPD is not just one disease but an identifier for a group of diseases that cause breathing-related problems, including the more commonly known emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
In the past, COPD was thought of as primarily a men’s disease. This is because it affected smokers and people in jobs where large amounts of fumes, dust or chemicals were inhaled, during a time when fewer women were in the workforce. With more women than men now getting COPD, this is no longer the case. In 2017, COPD became the third leading cause of death for women. If your loved one is having trouble breathing and you have not addressed this with their doctor, now is the time.
In the United States, the leading cause of COPD is tobacco smoke. However, exposure to other air pollutants, genetics, and recurring respiratory infections can also play a part. While there might be a genetic component that might make you more likely to get it, it is not contagious.
Because there are so many variations in the diseases that manifest as COPD, there is no single test for it. There is also no cure, only treatment. Based on symptoms, your doctor will determine a course of treatment. Your medical team may include a pulmonologist and physical and respiratory therapists who will work toward treatments that work best for your loved one.
Symptoms are often mild at first, leading people to brush them off. There can be some intermittent coughing or shortness of breath. However, the symptoms will progressively worsen and become harder to ignore. It is time to see the doctor when you see one or more of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath, after even mild exercise such as walking up a flight of stairs
- Chest tightness
- Chronic cough, with or without mucus
- Need to clear mucus from the lungs every day
- Frequent colds, flu, or other respiratory infections
- Lack of energy
- Swelling of the feet or ankles
- Unexplainable weight loss
While COPD is incurable, it can be treated and managed with great success. Some of the things that a physician may suggest include:
- Quitting smoking
- Avoiding secondhand smoke and other pollutants
- Plenty of fluids
- Nutritional supplements and eating habits to boost overall health
- A monitored exercise program
- Pulmonary rehabilitation
- Medication, which might include daily and emergency inhalers
- An annual flu and pneumonia vaccine
- Quick intervention in the case of flu or other respiratory infections
- Supplemental oxygen
Home Care Tip
Caregivers can be invaluable to loved ones managing COPD by helping them avoid triggers, stay calm, and take their medications consistently. More importantly, an in-home caregiver is best positioned to monitor changes in breathing over time and alert seniors and their families to the need for a medical check-up. Do you need help managing COPD? Call us – We Can Help! 615-422-7549.