November is National Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Awareness Month, and our team at Galen wants to shed some light on this illness while trying to raise local awareness. This month marks a unique opportunity for the COPD community to band together to help educate others about the disease, bring greater visibility to its effects, and to encourage people to recognize its symptoms and seek early diagnosis and treatment.
Learn More, Breathe Better is a national health education program dedicated to raising awareness about lung health, while supporting further research to inspire both public and professional education programs. Galen also seeks to increase COPD awareness while offering the best possible care and support for our patients living with the disease.
What is COPD?
COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a group of lung diseases that make it difficult to breathe. The condition is also progressive, which means symptoms tend to worsen over time. That said there are treatments and overall lifestyle changes that can help patients treat the symptoms and manage the condition.
Common Types of COPD
The two most common types of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. These conditions are similar in that they both make breathing very difficult, but they actually affect the lungs in different ways. Chronic bronchitis is a condition in which the airways in the lungs are constantly inflamed causing cough and reduced air flow. Bronchitis is considered chronic, or long term, if a person coughs and produces excess mucus most days for at least 3 months of the year for two consecutive years or more.
Emphysema is a condition in which the air sacs, or alveoli, inside the lungs become affected. When these air sacs are healthy, they expand when you breathe in, and return to their normal size when you exhale. For those affected by emphysema, those air sacs become enlarged and cannot return to their original size. This causes air to become trapped in the air sacs, making it hard for air to enter.
Symptoms & Treatment Options
COPD symptoms include difficulty breathing, wheezing during normal activity or when at rest, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing up mucus. When these symptoms become exacerbated and inhaler use doesn’t adequately address the problem, patients sometimes require treatments including:
- Use of a prescription steroid such as prednisone
- Use of antibiotics
- ER visit
- Hospital stay
Flare ups of COPD are often triggered by viral or bacterial infections, but can also be brought on by other factors such as pollution and even stress. Often, the flare ups come on suddenly, so it’s good to have a treatment plan worked out with your provider that can be implemented quickly when symptoms become particularly problematic.
Ways to Avoid Flare Ups
When you suffer from the effects of COPD, each flare up causes further damage to the lungs. That’s why it’s so important to take steps to reduce the likelihood of exacerbation, and talk to your doctor about how you can avoid triggers for your symptoms. Things that can help include:
- Avoid smoking, and other people who do.
- Take any prescribed medications exactly as intended by your provider to ensure efficacy.
- Wash your hands often!
- Keep your living space clean, and dust often.
- Try to avoid cold air, which can trigger spasms in the airways
- Get a flu shot, and ask your provider about pneumonia vaccines.
- Avoid crowds during cold and flu season.
- Actively stay away from anyone with a sore throat, or other cold or flu symptoms.
If you suffer from the effects of COPD, you are not alone. Our Galen team is here to support you as you manage your condition, and to help you find the best treatments and lifestyle choices to help you effectively navigate the symptoms. We’re spending this month educating our patients about COPD, and reminding you that we’re here for you when you need us.