Have you ever seen anyone who coughed a lot and couldn’t climb a few stairs without gasping for breath? It may very well be that this person was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
COPD: living with shortness of breath
Can you imagine your daily life if you had to constantly wear a bag over your head, which would prevent you from breathing normally? Or yet, if you had to breathe through a straw every day? This constant feeling of not being able to breathe is something that thousands of Canadians who live with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, experience every day.
COPD affects around 6% of Canadians aged 55 and above. It is characterized by a progressive obstruction of the air passages. The sufferer has trouble exhaling air from the bronchial tubes because they are partially blocked. This results in persistent coughing accompanied by embarrassing secretions, shortness of breath when carrying out daily tasks as well as difficult breathing, especially during exertion or at night. COPD is also punctuated with periods of aggravation brought on by the flu or another virus. These episodes often require a visit to the hospital.
If you are one of those with chronic colds and you have the symptoms mentioned above, a consultation with your doctor may be necessary. Based on the assessment of your symptoms, the doctor could decide to make you take a spirometry breathing test. It is a diagnostic test that will tell your doctor if you have COPD. The test is really simple: you just have to breathe into a small machine.
COPD treatment has several aims:
- slow down the progress of the disease;
- ease respiratory symptoms;
- increase tolerance to exertion;
- re-establish a better quality of life;
- increase life expectancy.
Smoking cessation: the basis of the treatment
In the majority of cases, COPD is caused by smoking. Exposure to second-hand smoke can also predispose you to this disease. If you suffer from COPD and still smoke, it is imperative that you stop smoking at the earliest possible. Continuing to smoke will surely cause further damage to your bronchial tubes and lungs and by this, worsen the disease. Your pharmacist can provide invaluable assistance to help you quit smoking for good. Given the extraordinarily beneficial impact that this step will have on your health, there is no doubt that your pharmacist will support you enthusiastically!
Medications to treat COPD
If you suffer from COPD, your doctor can prescribe medications to manage the disease. They clear the obstruction of the bronchial tubes so that air can leave them. The majority of these are found in the form of inhalers. Ask your pharmacist to teach you the right method of taking your inhaled medications. This is essential for optimal treatment.
Oral medications, such as cortisone-based drugs or antibiotics, may also be prescribed for you. It is possible that your doctor gives you a “plan of action.” This explains what to do if your coughing increases or if the mucus turns greenish. If you know your treatment well, it will be easier for you to manage the situation when the time comes.
It is important that you understand the usefulness of each medication prescribed for you and know when and how to take it. Ask your pharmacist as many questions as necessary. These will be answered with pleasure.
Take control of your COPD
Here are a few additional suggestions to help you better manage your COPD:
- Take your medications seriously and be regular. Follow the recommendations of your doctor and your pharmacist.
- Prevent infections. Wash your hands frequently with water and soap to keep microbes at bay. Get vaccinated against the flu and pneumonia. If you contract these infections, the consequences can prove to be disastrous.
- Maintain a healthy weight to ease your shortness of breath.
- Eat healthy to keep your physical strength.
- Exercise to the extent possible.
- Practise respiratory and relaxation techniques.
You are not alone!
Several professional groups exist to help you cope better with your disease. For instance, some institutions offer a pulmonary rehabilitation program. This consists of supervised exercises, education, follow-up, and psychological support.
The Quebec Asthma and COPD Network (QACN) has created several educational centres in Quebec to offer a free individualized education program to help you better manage your disease. The Quebec Lung Association holds meetings on various subjects in the form of lectures which will give you the opportunity to get informed and share your experiences.
Untreated COPD can rapidly bring down your lung capacity. Taking control of your disease can make all the difference. Several professionals are on hand, ready to help you breathe easier!