Chronic Obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for lung diseases such as emphysema, bronchitis and non-reversible asthma. India has one of the highest rates of COPD related deaths in the world. As of now, it is a progressive and incurable disease but with timely diagnosis and treatment, one can keep it under control.

Having COPD makes it difficult to breathe and going about everyday chores or climbing the stairs can literally take one’s breath away. People who are heavy smokers, those who are exposed to industrial fumes for a number of years, air pollution and sadly, people who inhale it as second-hand smoke is all at risk. A rare genetic disorder known as a1-antitrypsin deficiency is sometimes associated with this disease.

The symptoms of COPD are coughing that may produce mucus, shortness of breath during physical activity, a feeling of tightness in the chest, a lack of energy and sudden weight loss that occurs in advanced stages.

COPD issues like chronic bronchitis and emphysema affect two different parts of the lungs so let’s take a look at them separately.

Chronic bronchitis – This is essentially an inflammation of the bronchial tubes (the passageway that allows air to enter the lungs). Thick mucus builds up in the tubes preventing adequate air from reaching the lungs.

Emphysema – In this condition, the air sacs of the lungs, known as alveoli, get damaged. With the passage of time, the inner walls of the air sacs rupture due to the pressure, creating a large space instead of the small, normal ones. As a result, the surface area of the lungs reduces and the amount of oxygen that reaches your bloodstream also gets reduced. Old air gets trapped, leaving no space for fresh oxygen to enter.

People who have one condition usually have the other as well. Treatment can improve breathing but can’t reverse the damage caused to the lungs.

What precautions can you take to avoid COPD?

Stop smoking
This is the most common cause of COPD. Cigars and pipe smoking also contribute to the problem. If you don’t smoke, stay away from people who are smoking. Second-hand smoke is worse in many ways since most of the smoke doesn’t go into the lungs of the smoker, it disperses in the air. When someone breathes it in, there’s no puffing it out.

Protect yourself against fumes of any kind
This is especially necessary if you work in a factory or are around chemicals a lot. Always keep your mouth and nose covered. Also, be mindful of air pollution.

Public education
Since COPD is such a widespread problem with no cure in sight yet, it is important that the general public is made aware of this dangerous and debilitating disease. Protect yourself and others by spreading awareness as much as possible. Find out if anyone in your family is suffering from this disease and if there have been fatalities associated with COPD.

Pay attention to coughing that won’t go away. Many people tend to wave it off by calling it “smoker’s cough“. Millions of people are living with COPD without being diagnosed. Get regular health check-ups by a medical professional in case you have any of the above-mentioned symptoms. In case your doctor suspects COPD, they might ask you to go in for a lab test, a chest X-ray or a CT scan. If a diagnosis is made early, treatment can start early and you can live a more active and productive life.




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