I have now been a respiratory therapist for 21 years. During these years I have taken care of many people with COPD. Some I have even gotten to know quite well. It is through these experiences that I have compiled this list:
8 things I wish everyone knew about COPD
1. You can live a long, productive life with COPD. I have known people who have lived 20 plus years with COPD. Your chances of living a long life with COPD increase if you see a doctor and follow your doctor’s advice. You may have to make some changes, you may look at life from a new perspective, but you can do it.
2. Some people have it but don’t know it. According to the National Heart And Blood Institute, 12 million Americans have COPD but don’t know it. Many of these are people I meet for the first time when they are having their first flare-ups. When I interview them, many say they choked feeling short of breath to the aging process.
3. The earlier you seek help the better. I mentioned above that I sometimes meet COPDers in the ER during their first flare-ups. Many of these patients have to be admitted to the hospital. Often I hear their doctors say, “If you had come in sooner you might be able to go home now. This is because the sooner you come in, the easier it is to fix you.” So, this is my reminder to you that if you even think you might need help, better to seek it now than to wait.
4. It often features early warning symptoms. These may be subtle changes such as a change in the color of your sputum. They may include increased fatigue, shortness of breath, or coughing. These are warnings that flare-up is impending, and actions you take right now can prevent it.
5. A COPD action plan can help you decide what to do. This is a plan you work on with your doctor. It helps you decide what actions to take when you experience early warning symptoms. These actions may include using rescue medicine or taking oral steroids. They also let you know when to call your doctor or 911.
6. Most cases are preventable. Studies show that 75% of COPD cases were preventable. This is why it is so important to get the word out to children early in life about the dangers of smoking cigarettes. I cannot even relay to you how many times I have had someone with COPD say to me, “Don’t smoke!” or “I hope you don’t smoke!” or “Don’t let your kids smoke!”
7. Smoking is not the only cause of COPD. Studies show that almost 25% of people with COPD never smoked. For example, inhaling chemicals or pollution in the air at your work can cause COPD. This is why efforts are ongoing to learn what occupations are hazardous to your lungs. Efforts to improve air quality at these jobs may prevent COPD. If this is not possible, wearing protective gear, such as masks, may prevent COPD.
8. One type of COPD is genetic. Trypsin is a protein that breaks down dead and decaying lung tissue. Anti-trypsin is a protein that breaks down trypsin. These work together to make sure trypsin levels stay at healthy levels. A mutation in the alpha-1 antitrypsin gene causes a depletion of antitrypsin. This causes trypsin levels to become elevated. When this happens, trypsin gets carried away and starts to break down healthy lung tissue. Less than three percent of COPDers have this gene.
So, these are eight things I wish everyone knew about COPD. What is something you wish everyone knew about COPD?