COPD: A Helpful Guide


By Joan Weems, RN

Good lungs are something that everyone can benefit from, but maintaining the health of those lungs as we age requires some care. That is because seniors are especially vulnerable to respiratory problems, including complications from the flu, dangerous forms of pneumonia and chronic conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

WHAT IS COPD? COPD is a broad term describing diseases of the lungs associated with limited airflow due to the airways being blocked, making it very difficult to breathe. It is the most common chronic airway disease among seniors, and is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Close to 24 million U.S. adults have symptoms of impaired lung function, and about 13 million are diagnosed with COPD. Chronic bronchitis affects 11 million community-dwelling people, and 5 million people are affected by emphysema.

Most cases of COPD are a combination of emphysema and chronic bronchitis. With emphysema, the walls between many of the air sacs are destroyed, leading to a few large air sacs instead of many tiny ones. The result of this is a poor exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and consequently, shortness of breath. With chronic bronchitis, the airways become inflamed and thickened, and there is an increase in the number and size of the mucous producing cells. This results in excessive mucous production, which leads to a cough and difficulty getting air in and out of the lungs.

CAUSES Smoking is the primary cause of COPD; however, any kind of lung irritants such as secondhand smoke, pollution and occupational toxins (dust and chemicals) can contribute as well. Age and genetics are also causes of the disease.

SYMPTOMS A cough that doesn’t go away, increased sputum production, shortness of breath, chest tightness and wheezing are common symptoms of COPD. Symptoms vary depending on whether chronic bronchitis or emphysema predominates. Other symptoms such as frequent pneumonia, frequent sinus infections, and a history of asthma as a child are also common in those with COPD.

TREATMENTS No treatment reverses the process of COPD. While it cannot be cured, treatments are available to help minimize and control the signs and symptoms, allow for easier breathing, prevent complications, improve quality of life and even may prolong life.

WHAT DO I DO IF DIAGNOSED WITH COPD? First, if you are diagnosed with COPD, and are currently a smoker, find a cessation program to help you quit. Check your Medicare to see if it will cover the smoking cessation counseling program. Secondly, reduce your exposure to lung irritants like secondhand smoke, dust pollution, and chemicals. Finally, make dietary changes to keep your weight in check. Eat a good source of protein (milk, eggs, cheese, meat, fish, poultry, nuts, dried beans, peas) twice a day to help maintain strong respiratory muscles.

Victory Home Health and Hospice plus Medical Equipment can assist you with all your healthcare needs. We can help you in your home to teach your medications, assess your heart and lungs, ensure your safety needs, assist with bathing, and provide a physical therapist to assist you with an exercise regime. We welcome your call at 888-815-7922. A nurse will be glad to assist you with any questions or concerns that you might have.