Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a group of lung diseases, (including emphysema and chronic bronchitis), that block airflow in the lungs. They are characterized by difficulty getting air out of the lungs. This makes it increasingly difficult to breathe. Many of the symptoms of COPD are similar to asthma symptoms.
Although COPD is a leading cause of death and illness worldwide, it is often preventable due to it being highly correlated with long-term cigarette smoking. While smokers are much more prone to COPD, many likely suffer from a combination of both asthma and COPD.
It is important to distinguish between asthma, COPD or a combination of the two as the treatment approach will differ.
Symptoms & Diagnosis
Both asthma and COPD may cause shortness of breath and a cough. Symptoms characteristic of COPD include a morning cough productive of yellowish phlegm, fatigue and frequent lower respiratory infections. Episodes of wheezing and cough at night or when exposed to allergens are more common with asthma.
To make an accurate diagnosis of COPD, your doctor should spend time with you discussing your medical history and perform a physical examination. Chest X-rays, spirometry, and blood work may be utilized as well.
Treatment & Management
While there is no cure for COPD, proper medications and lifestyle changes can control symptoms and reduce the progression of damage to the lungs.
Stopping smoking is the most important treatment for COPD. It is the only way to prevent COPD from getting worse. Quitting isn’t easy, so talk to your doctor about both prescription and over the counter medications that might help.
Medications frequently used to treat the symptoms of COPD include:
- Bronchodilators: these relax the muscles around the airways
- Inhaled corticosteroids: these can decrease inflammation and mucous production
- Antibiotics: these are often needed during exacerbation as infections can make COPD worse
- Annual flu shot and an early pneumonia shot
It is also important to avoid inhalants that can irritate your lungs such as smoke, pollution, and air that is cold and dry.