Every year the 3rd Wednesday of November is observed as #WorldCOPDDay or World Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Day to raise awareness about Obstructive Lung diseases globally. This year the world is celebrating #WorldCOPDDay on the 16th of November and the designated theme for this year is “Your Lungs for life”. The aim of this campaign is to raise awareness and create better facilities for people living with COPD.
What is COPD?
COPD is the short form of Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, it is the third largest cause of death globally and yet little has been done to aggressively control it.
Our lungs are a fine network of air spaces and blood vessels. The oxygen we inhale through diffusion in the air spaces called alevoli purifies the carbonated blood , making it oxygen rich. Next, this pure blood is sent to the heart to be pumped throughout the body. Often due to allergy like in asthma or in diseases like Emphysema, the lungs get damaged and the airways gets obstructed. As a result the lungs cannot purify blood to the extend needed for good health and normal functioning. Further when this condition continues unchecked, the affected person goes into permanent lung damage and other organ complications.
Living with COPD can become very challenging and can affect one’s quality of life greatly.
COPD is a type of progressive lung disease that can be prevented and treated .It is a disease that causes long-term respiratory symptoms and decreased flow of air into the lungs.
Shortness of breath, coughing, and sometimes chronic sputum production causing a rattling sound in chest are the main symptoms. The affected person may have flare ups in winter season.
If allowed to progress, COPD can make daily activities like walking and even dressing difficult because of the breathlessness and reduced oxygenation of blood.
Who is at risk for developing COPD ?
Inhaling tobacco smoke is the biggest risk for COPD. You are at an increased risk of developing COPD even if you are a passive smoker.
Another most common cause of COPD is breathing in of toxic particles and gases in the atmosphere. These could come from burning stubble after harvest , fossil fuels or industrial waste etc. The AQI for healthy lungs should be 0-50.That puts most of Northern India and particularly Delhi at risk with an AQI hovering above the dangerous level of 300.
Babies and advanced age
Babies and children below the age of 5 years when exposed to environmental pollutants will have some permanent damage to the lungs. Both the extremes of life are more susceptible to COPD and permanent lung damage and should be protected. The elderly who suffer from COPD , generally also suffer from a poor functioning heart and that puts them at grave danger. Air purifiers are a necessity for this group if the air quality is poor.
Some people are born with a genetic condition where the they lack the ability to produce Alpha 1Antitrypsin, a protein that helps to protect the lungs. Alpha1antitrypsin deficiency (AATD) is an inherited disease that increases the risk of developing COPD, liver disease, certain skin problems , vasculitis. Symptoms may include shortness of breath and wheezing, repeated infections of the lungs and liver, yellow skin, feeling overly tired (fatigue), rapid heartbeat when standing, vision problems, and weight loss.
How do we diagnose COPD?
A patient with COPD can suffer from shortness of breath, chest tightness , chronic cough, wheezing and rattling in chest.
A doctor can diagnose COPD based on clinical symptoms or by asking you to undergo a non-invasive test called the pulmonary function tests or spirometry.
A CT scan can also confirm the diagnosis.
What are the complications of living with COPD ?
Not only COPD can make you catch infections easily and predispose you to Pneumonia but also untreated COPD can lead to Permanent and severe lung damage like lung collapse (pneumothorax ) and Atelectasis .
A reliable Oximeter can help in monitoring the lung function and blood oxygen saturation at home easily.
With COPD , the lungs cannot oxygenate the blood and provide enough oxygen to the body which puts a pressure on the heart to pump even more frequently. Since the heart muscles are themselves not getting a good amount of oxygen to work, the added function of [pumping more blood puts a strain on the heart. This can cause the chambers of the heart to become enlarged and the muscles become weaker. Once a condition called Cor-Pulomonale sets in , the heart becomes too weak. This causes congestion in the liver and lungs and it causes swelling in the feet too.
A reduced Oxygen supply in a COPD patient will produce headache and confusion and inability to concentrate. Further still, an increase in CO2 in the blood can lead to a condition called Acidosis which is life threatening.
Mental Health complications
Studies have revealed that COPD has a strong co-relation with Mental Health problems. The patients who have had COPD for long often have a restricted social life, think of the missed school picnics because of the chances of an acute attack, reduced participation in sports etc. or not being able to study because of an acute attack. Consequently, many people living with COPD can develop mental health issues likes low self esteem, depression ,anxiety etc. During an acute attack they may become very irritable too.
Bone and Muscle Complications
The reduced Oxygen supply in the blood causes the muscles to waste. The bones to become more brittle (Osteoporosis ) specially in the elderly. A child with COPD may not thrive and not gain height and weight appropriate for their age.
Why Good Lung Health is Important?
- You have only one set of lungs when you are born.
- There is no cure for COPD ! Once damaged, your lungs cannot recover even with medicine.
- Reduced oxygen in the blood affects your heart , liver and even your vision.
How to cope better when living with COPD ?
Quit smoking – Even if you have been smoking for years , quitting can reduce further damage. Quitting can reduce the attacks to a great extent , thus making living with COPD easier. Passive smoking is equally hazardous as active smoking. So by smoking , you are not just putting yourself but also your loved ones at risk.
Improve Air quality – We cannot stress this enough, we all need clean air for healthy lungs. Using Air-purifiers can help in improving air-quality at home. Governments and Industries need to come together to introduce technologies and legislations to check air pollutants. Technological advances like introducing green energy , bio fuels etc. can help. Air purifiers at home and face masks outside can help curb the effect of poor air quality. It is about time that all nations come together to create a climate for better and sustainable living.
Exercise regularly – Exercising daily in clean air can improve the lung capacity and strengthen the lungs thus making living with COPD easier.
Healthy diet – A diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides the necessary anti-oxidants to reduce cell -injury and enhance the healing process when exposed to allergens.
Regular check ups – Last but not the least , if you or anyone in the family has been having a cough lasting more than 15 days or has fatigue ,shortness of breath, increased mucus and fatigue along with the cough, then you need to rule out COPD.
Once you or your loved one has been diagnosed with COPD, regular checks ups are important. Most importantly taking regular treatment and following a healthy regimen can make living with COPD easier.
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