Why your chronic cough could be COPD

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Why your chronic cough could be COPD

You’ve dealt with your nagging cough and breathlessness for a few months, chalking it up to getting older.  Or maybe you’ve been getting more respiratory infections lately along with a noticeable wheezing and feeling fatigued.  And recently you’ve noticed a new symptom of a blue tint to your lips or fingernails.  These disturbing but telltale symptoms should not be ignored as they could very well be signs of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD

What is COPD?

COPD is an umbrella term for a number of lung diseases that can lead to disability and even death.  This condition includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, severe asthma, or a combination of these conditions.  Overtime, they can cause inflammation, destruction, or abnormal repair of airways and lung tissue, which reduces airflow and ultimately makes it harder to take in enough oxygen to supply the body.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic lower respiratory disease, mainly COPD, is a leading cause of death as it kills around 3 million people worldwide with nearly 16 million people in the U.S. hospitalized each year because of COPD.

COPD develops slowly and usually worsens over time.  In the beginning stages, someone with COPD may not have any symptoms.  This is why the earlier it is diagnosed, the earlier prevention and treatment can be started to reduce serious lung damage, respiratory problems, and even heart failure.

Causes of COPD

There are several causes of COPD but the main risk factor is smoking.  People who smoke are 13 times more likely to die from COPD than those who have never smoked. 

However, while about 80% of COPD cases are related to having smoked, 20% are not.  Other causes leading to the development of COPD can include poorly controlled asthma, abnormal lung development, long-term exposure to secondhand smoke or exposure to air pollution such as fumes, chemicals, or dust in work environments.

Diagnosis and treatment for COPD

If you have had any of the symptoms of COPD along with any of the risk factors for its development, talk to your doctor.  To diagnosis whether or not you have COPD, your doctor will review your signs and symptoms, discuss your family and medical history and discuss any exposure you’ve had to lung irritants – especially cigarette smoke.   In addition, your doctor may order several tests to help diagnosis it which include:

·      Chest x-ray - This can show emphysema, one of the main causes of COPD.  It can also rule out other lung problems or heart failure.

·      Spirometry This is a lung function test in which you’ll be asked to blow into a large tube connected to a small machine called a spirometer.  This machine measures how much air your lungs can hold and how fast you can blow the air out of your lungs

·      Arterial blood gas analysisThis blood test measures how well your lungs are bringing oxygen into your blood and removing carbon dioxide. 

Treatment for COPD may involve inhaled medications such as bronchodilators to open the airways, and corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.  Other treatments might include antibiotics, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, and procedures to improve lung function.

Prognosis and prevention

Worldwide, COPD is considered the third leading cause of death but the outlook is improving as the death rates have decreased.  Another bright spot is that in two-thirds of people who get a diagnosis of COPD, the disease does not progress. 

But, early detection and prevention are key.  To protect oneself from developing COPD the following steps are recommended:

·      Do not smoke or find ways to quit smoking

·      Reduce exposure to air pollutants

·      Get annual vaccinations for influenza and pneumonia

·      Take the medications necessary to stabilize the condition