Plants and flowers breathe. Trees do, too. Did you know that? Their tissues respire just as animal tissues do. But it isn’t plant-life that I want to focus on. Our lives are gardens; remember? And breathing is essential to our quality of living. An absolute must, for survival. Unfortunately, breathing can be difficult for anyone who has lung disease.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lung. It obstructs airflow when you exhale. And it is highly prevalent throughout the world. Approximately, 600M people live with COPD. By 2028, the number is expected to increase — making it the third leading cause of mortality worldwide.
In the U.S., about 20-30% of all COPD patients are (or were) smokers. Cigarette use constitutes the largest risk factor for the disease. Cigars are also harmful. Yet, many who are diagnosed have never smoked at any point in their life. Air pollution, biomass smoke exposure, genetic abnormalities, age, occupational dusts / chemicals, poor nutrition and respiratory infections (especially in childhood) are additional factors.
If you have been diagnosed with COPD, then you know the symptoms all too well. For those who may be concerned about themselves or a loved one, consider some of the following:
- Shortness of breath (especially during physical exertion)
- Chest tightness
- Constantly clearing your throat of mucus
- A persistent cough
- Blueness of the lips or fingernails
- Lack of energy
- Swelling of the ankles, legs & feet
The quickest and easiest method to diagnose COPD is with Spirometry. Other tests may also be used, i.e. chest x-ray, Bronchodilator Reversibility, Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, Computed Tomography, etc.
If you have been diagnosed with COPD, there are ways to improve your health and life. Quit smoking. And, please, do not fool yourself into thinking that E-cigarettes are a safe alternative. When you use them, you are inhaling the ingredients, i.e. flavorings. There are no medical studies to confirm that this is safe, or what effects it could have on your body in years to come. Eating healthy will not cure COPD, but it will make you feel better. Food is fuel for the body. Good fuel produces good energy. When you have COPD, you actually need more energy to breathe. That equates to the need for a healthy, balanced diet. If you are overweight, consider dropping some of those extra pounds. Drink plenty of fluids (42-48 oz. of non-caffeinated beverages), daily. It will make the mucus that you struggle with thinner and easier to cough up. Limit your caffeine consumption. Watch the salt. Too much sodium will cause your body to retain fluid. That makes breathing difficult. Calcium and Vitamin D can be found in dairy products, i.e. milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. If you aren’t getting enough in your diet, your doctor may suggest supplements. Remember to eat grains, low-fat meats, vegetables and fruits. You’ll be glad that you did!
Another way to enhance your quality of life, despite COPD, is with exercise. Weak muscles need oxygen. When they aren’t getting enough, even simple tasks (like a trip to the supermarket) become difficult. Exercise can change that. Walking is a simple and safe way for most patients to start. A stationary bike is another option. Arm curls, done with light weights, can also help. Leg extensions can strengthen your thighs. In fact, many COPD patients enjoy Tai Chi. It provides a mild workout and also helps to ease stress/anxiety. Talk to your doctor about the exercise options that can best help you.
With any Chronic illness, optimism plays a key-role in maintaining a productive lifestyle. And optimism comes, in part, from being informed. So, talk to your doctor. Read articles about COPD. It will enable you to have more control over your life and your disease, instead of allowing it to take control of you. It’s also important to remember that you aren’t alone. 133M Americans live with a Chronic illness. Many have COPD. You might even consider meeting some of them. The Better Breathers Club is a great way to do so. It is a support group for individuals who are living with lung diseases like yours. And these groups are all over the country. If you are interested in finding a Better Breathers Club near you, call 1-800-LUNG-USA or visit the American Lung Association’s website for more details. You CAN do this!
* Photo by Julia Engel on Unsplash