Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to progressive lung diseases, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking is a primary cause of COPD, but the disease can affect non-smokers as well. The disease is characterized by breathing problems, coughs, production of sputum and wheezing. While COPD has no cure, it can be managed effectively under the guidance of a doctor, like Kalpana Desai, MD.
COPD can not only affect smokers, but it can also affect individuals who currently don’t smoke and those who’ve never smoked. The following are other major causes of the disease:
- Secondhand Smoke: Frequent exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke can cause COPD
- Air Pollution: Inhaling dust, fumes of fuel, chemical fumes, or other toxic substances in the surrounding air can also lead to the disease
- Genetics: Similar to many other medical conditions, COPD also has a link to genetics. About 5% of COPD patients have an alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency in their DNA. This deficiency means that the lungs lack adequate levels of the alpha-1 antitrypsin protein to protect themselves from damage. Insufficient amounts of this protective protein can cause lung deterioration, resulting in COPD.
- Asthma: Untreated asthma can lead to lung damage, and subsequently, COPD
- Age: Most COPD patients are 40 years old and above
- Childhood Stressors: If you experienced a lot of childhood respiratory infections, your risk of developing COPD as an adult is very high. Other stressors are maternal smoking during pregnancy, exposure to tobacco smoke during childhood, and low weight at birth
COPD symptoms appear similar in both smokers and nonsmokers. However, research has revealed that people who have never smoked experience milder symptoms compared to current and former smokers. A certain Danish study assessed 6,623 COPD patients. 1,476 of the participants had never smoked, 2,696 were ex-smokers, and 2,451 were active smokers. The participants who had never smoked before displayed fewer, milder symptoms and less inflammation than the active or former smokers.
Some of the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are:
- Feeling the urge to clear your throat frequently, because of too much mucus
- Experiencing shortness of breath, even after engaging in mild physical activity
- Chest tightness
- Recurrent respiratory infections
- Persistent cough
- Having low levels of energy
The symptoms of COPD are not readily visible until the lung damage becomes too severe. As a result, most non-smokers are diagnosed with the disease at a later age.
Prevention of COPD typically revolves around advising smokers to stop the habit. If you have never smoked, don’t begin. Another prevention technique is to avoid exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke and air pollutants.
If you’re already suffering from the disease, you can take steps to prevent it from getting worse. The first step is to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. COPD is usually diagnosed through an assessment of the patient’s medical history and physical status, lung function tests, and chest imaging tests, such as an X-ray or CT scan.
Getting an accurate diagnosis early on is critical because your doctor can develop the appropriate treatment plan for you. Although chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is an incurable condition, you can slow its progression with early diagnosis and effective treatment plan.