Never Smoked Yet Have COPD
COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States.1 Under the COPD diagnosis umbrella are emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory asthma, and Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency, which is the genetic form of COPD.
More than just cigarettes
We have heard about the importance of quitting smoking from the beginning of our diagnosis. "Smoking can cause COPD and we must quit." That is so true. I know that I smoked, and I had possibly been affected by environmental things as well. But for this article, we aren’t going to discuss cigarettes. Why? Sadly, there are people who never smoked that have COPD. You likely didn’t smoke, since you are reading this article.
Other causes of COPD
You see, there are other causes of COPD. These are the people that I want to reach out to. Those who never smoked but have COPD. They could have been raised around second-hand smoke, worked in a place where smoking was permitted or could have been exposed to chemicals and other pollutants at work. Air pollution can cause COPD as well. As can genetics, such as Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Can you think of other things?
Stages of COPD
Even though there are different causes of COPD, it is still a disease that obstructs airflow from the lungs. It is commonly reported that there are four stages of COPD.
- Mild. FEV1 (amount of air exhaled in one second) is 80% or greater
- Moderate. FEV1 is 50% to 80%
- Severe. FEV1 is 30%-50%
- Very Severe. FEV1 is less than 30%
The Mayo Clinic goes by three stages. Some consider five stages, with the fifth being congenital heart failure. However, most stand by the four standard stages of COPD.
Potential COPD triggers
There are many things that might cause you to feel sick, such as:
- Weather. Oh yes! I think we can blame the weather for many health issues.
- Higher altitude. This is what caused me to see a doctor about my lung health in the first place.
- Allergies. These can trigger all types of physical responses. My doctor says that allergies could be what trigger my exacerbations
- Sinus infections.
- Emotions. Many will be able to understand how emotions can affect us. Depression, anxiety and even excitement can affect our breathing. It feels like someone is squeezing my chest, I get short of breath and have some difficulty breathing. In those cases, my Pro-Air Rescue Inhaler gets used.
What are early warning signs of an exacerbation?
Early warning signs that you may be having an exacerbation include:2
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing has increased
- More mucus production. These could be a change in color from a white to a dark yellow or green.
- Increased tiredness
- Blood clot to the lungs
- Pulmonary edema
- Edema, which is swelling in the ankles
- Increased use of rescue inhaler and/or nebulizer
- High blood pressure
- Sinus infection
Very serious warning signs that require a call to the doctor or 911 include:
- Severe shortness of breath
- Bluish color in lips, fingernail,s and/or toenails
- Chest pains
- Confusion and/or disorientation
- Slurring of speech
Always listen to your body and maintain good communication with your healthcare team.
Do you have a COPD exacerbation tool kit?