Why COPD Awareness Matters and What You Can Do
November is COPD Awareness Month each year, and the third Wednesday in November is World COPD Day (on the 21st this year). Why is this important, you might ask? After all, if you or your loved one have COPD, you are certainly aware of how it affects you and what it means.
But the fact is, even though COPD is the 3rd leading cause of death1 in the United States, many people still do not know what it is. And partly because of that, many millions of people who have COPD go undiagnosed and untreated for many years. That leads to poorer health and possible an untimely death, due to lack of treatment.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 12 million people in the U.S. are known to have COPD. But even more frightening is the fact that an equal number are thought to have it, but have not yet been diagnosed.2
By raising awareness of the following, we may improve the health outcomes for everyone who has COPD:
- What COPD symptoms are
- Who is at risk for COPD (it's not just elderly smokers)
- Why early detection and treatment can improve quality and duration of life and health
Increasing awareness may also lessen the burden on our health care system for COPD.
So, what can you do to improve COPD awareness?
The first step to increase COPD awareness is education. Improving knowledge in:
- Physicians and other health care professionals
- People who have COPD
- People who may have COPD
- Those who care for people with COPD or suspected COPD
- Funding and research organizations
If we want to improve the detection and treatment of any disease, it has to be in the public domain. When the risks of COPD and the benefits of early diagnosis and treatment are better known, it will hopefully lead to more research and more funding of such research. And those findings can lead to more earlier detection, more effective treatment and perhaps even a cure in time.
We know that most, though not all, people who have COPD were smokers. What has only been recently recognized is that smoking is a powerful addiction. So, education about the following can also improve COPD awareness and outcomes:
- The consequences of smoking on respiratory health
- The importance of stopping smoking or never smoking
- Effective ways to quit smoking for good
Smoking, however, is not the only risk factor for COPD. So we also need to include education about other risk factors, such as environmental or workplace exposure to harmful substances.
Conversation and Communication
A great way to increase awareness about COPD is to talk about it. We need to wipe away the stigma and the belief that people who have COPD somehow deserve it because of their lifestyle choices. We all make poor lifestyle choices from time to time through our lives. But none of us deserve to contract an incurable illness because of those choices.
If you have COPD or you're caring for someone who does, talk openly with everyone around you about it. Share what it feels like to have the disease, what can be done about it and how to still live a quality life with COPD.
If you're on social media, don't be shy about sharing your story and what you know about COPD. You can also encourage people to stop smoking or not to start. Many COPD and other health organizations/websites offer text, graphics and other media you can use to publicize our fight against COPD. In fact, right here at COPD.net, we are offering a couple of tools and a giveaway this year to help raise COPD awareness.
Become a COPD Organizer and Advocate
You can take a proactive approach and start organizing to improve awareness about COPD. For example:
- Contact your local newspapers, radio stations and TV channels to inform them about COPD Awareness Month and any local events connected with that.
- Organize an information session, or perhaps a health fair, for your local senior center about COPD, using health care experts in the area. They might even offer COPD screenings.
- Ask a COPD expert to present a seminar on some aspect of COPD for your community group.
- Print out COPD Awareness posters, such as this one, and hang them in public places, such as libraries, community buildings and food stores.
- Set up an information table at your local library. You could have a health care professional, plus one or two people who have COPD man the table at certain times. Print out COPD reading lists of books and websites, and have some of those books on display on the table.
Why Awareness Matters
The importance of COPD awareness, advocacy and education can be summed up my experience with my dad. For years, my dad had chronic coughing fits that would last 15 minutes or longer. He'd lean against the kitchen counter, gasping for breath. He didn't want to talk about it and swore it was just his allergies. As a nurse, I knew it was more than that, but he refused to discuss it.
As the years went on, he was less and less active. His vibrant life in a golf community with my mother and an active circle of friends slowly shrank, to the point he seldom left the house. He made some efforts to quit smoking, but it never "stuck." As far as I know, his COPD was never diagnosed and it was definitely not treated.
Finally, at the relatively youthful age of 69, he was hospitalized in severe respiratory failure. Within two weeks, he had passed away. I can't help but wonder if he'd been diagnosed, or if he at least had acknowledged his diagnosis (no one knows what his doctor may have told him in private), and if he'd been treated with medications and oxygen, how different his life course might have been. Perhaps he would have lived another ten years and had a much-improved quality of life. And my mother's life would have been greatly enriched as well.
If all of us work to raise awareness and help educate people and get them involved in the fight against COPD, it might mean stories like my dads would not ever be told.
Do you struggle to afford your COPD medications?