Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, also known as COPD, is the third biggest killer in the United States. More than 12 million people are diagnosed with COPD every year, but there are believed to be twice as many who actually suffer from the disease; they just haven’t been diagnosed yet.
COPD is a serious disease, but although it is more common in older people, you don’t need to be old to have COPD. Unfortunately, because the symptoms of COPD are often linked to the aging process, many people don’t bother getting checked out by a doctor, which leads to a slow deterioration in lung function.
The Causes of COPD
Anyone can be affected by COPD, but the most common risk factor is smoking. It should come as no great surprise that smoking damages the lungs. Long-term exposure to the toxins in cigarette smoking causes irritation, which in time develops into COPD. Most cases of COPD occur in smokers even if they no longer smoke. In fact, 90% of all COPD deaths are smoking related.
You are also at risk if you have been exposed to other lung irritants. Passive smoking is a risk factor, but inhaling dust or contaminants in the workplace could increase your chances of developing COPD.
Finally, there is a genetic element to COPD and people with a rare genetic deficiency are at risk, which is around 100,000 Americans. These people can develop COPD even if they have never smoked or been exposed to lung irritants.
COPD Affects Young People Too
The symptoms of COPD usually start to manifest in middle-age but sometimes younger adults are affected. You may notice that you become breathless after exercise or suffer from a persistent chesty cough that just won’t shift. You may be susceptible to recurrent chest infections or wheeze when you breathe. None of these symptoms is normal, even in older people, so it is very important that you have a health check-up.
In younger people, a persistent wheezy cough or other symptoms of COPD are unlikely to be COPD, but if you smoke, it is wise to have a check-up. For adults over the age of 35, it is essential that you have your lung function tested using a Spirometer. This tests the volume of air you can blow out. The more restricted your lung function is, the lower the reading.
Treatment for COPD
There are a number of treatments for COPD, but the main one is to quit smoking. The sooner you quit, the better it will be for your long-term health. Your doctor will prescribe you medications to help ease your breathing, but if the lung damage is severe, further options will need to be considered.
In the most severe cases, a lung transplant is an option, but the outcome is not great. However, a revolutionary new stem cell treatment for COPD is helping many patients find a new lease of life from the debilitating effects of this terrible disease.
Do not ignore the symptoms of COPD. If you smoke or used to smoke and you have a cough that won’t clear up, speak to your doctor.