American Lung Association in Iowa asks "are you short of breath?" It could be more than just getting older – LIVING WELL Magazine

Short of Breath? It could be more than just getting older

By Janelle Thier, Program Coordinator, American Lung Association in Iowa, Linn County LIVING WELL Magazine

Have you ever gone up a flight of stairs and had to pause at the top to catch your breath? Has showering, vacuuming, or even making your bed gotten increasingly difficult due to your breathing? If so, you are not alone. An estimated one in 12 Iowans suffers from a serious lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. COPD is a disease that progresses slowly over time and makes it very difficult to breathe. COPD can also cause persistent coughing, excess sputum or phlegm, and wheezing. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are also forms of COPD.

Are You at Risk?
Three main factors contribute to the development of COPD: smoking, environmental exposure, and genetics. Smoking is the most common of those risk factors. If you have been diagnosed with COPD and are a smoker, it is never too late to stop. There are resources available in your community or by calling the American Lung Association to help you or a loved one through the quit process. Long-term or heavy exposure to things that can irritate your lungs like chemicals, dusts, and fumes also contribute to the development of COPD. Finally, a genetic form of COPD, known as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency can cause COPD, even if you have never smoked or had a long-term exposure to harmful pollutants.

Getting Tested
If you think you have signs and symptoms of COPD, the first step you need to do is speak with your health care provider. He or she may review your history and ask questions about your risk factors. The next step is to take a simple breathing test called spirometry. Spirometry is a noninvasive test that measures the amount of air and how fast you blow the air out of your lungs. The test will also indicate the severity of your COPD.

Treatment Options
Your health care provider may recommend any one or a combination of the treatments including:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medications
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
  • Support groups
  • Physical activity training
  • Oxygen treatment

Every diagnosis of COPD is different, so work with your health care provider to determine a treatment plan that works best. The American Lung Association in Iowa also offers a variety of services for individuals living with COPD and other health care professionals. Visit or call 1-800-548-8252 for more information.

Fighting for Air.