Specialists in Allergy, Sinus, & Asthma

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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) describes a group of lung conditions that make it difficult to empty the air out of the lungs. This difficulty can lead to shortness of breath, also called breathlessness, or the feeling of being tired. COPD is a word that can be used to describe a person with chronic bronchitis, emphysema or a combination of these. COPD is a different condition from asthma. COPD and asthma can exist together in the same individual.

Cough, sputum production or shortness of breath that will not go away are all common signs of COPD. These signs and a history of smoking will usually indicate that COPD is evolving.

How is COPD diagnosed?

In order to accurately diagnose COPD, the physician needs to order a test called spirometry, which measures if you have airway obstruction and how severe it is. This will also help distinguish the degree of emphysema and asthma that may or may not be present.

How is COPD treated?

If you are a smoker, the first and most important treatment is to stop smoking. As well as helping you quit smoking, your physician may prescribe medicines that widen the breathing tubes (bronchodilators), reduce swelling in the breathing tubes (anti-inflammatory drugs) or treat infection (antibiotics). Medications have been shown to help stabilize the breathing passages and decrease swelling. In order to provide control of your COPD, these medications must be taken every day, probably for the rest of your life.

Currently, there is no treatment available to restore damaged bronchi from bronchitis or alveoli affected by a large amount of emphysema. Unfortunately, the damage that has been done to the alveoli (emphysema) is permanent. In some parts of the world, surgery called lung volume reduction can be performed as a way of removing some, but not all, areas of the lungs with large amounts of emphysema.

With COPD you can learn to use the lung power you have more efficiently. You should learn as much as you can about your condition. Attending groups or enrolling in a Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program can be helpful. Pulmonary rehabilitation may also be recommended so that you can learn to be in control of your breathing, instead of your breathing controlling you.

How can COPD be prevented?

Nearly all cases of COPD are caused by smoking. It is more controversial whether COPD can be caused by passive smoking from the work environment or from a partner. The obvious way to prevent COPD in these circumstances is to not smoke or at least stop smoking before COPD develops. Usually, the tell-tale sign that COPD is developing in a smoker is a productive morning cough. However, every smoker should have annual pulmonary function tests to detect the development of COPD before it becomes symptomatic.

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