In chronic bronchitis, the linings of the bronchial tubes become inflamed. Emphysema happens when the alveoli in the small air passages in the lungs are destroyed. Many people who have COPD don’t find out until symptoms become more severe in later stages, because they don’t know the warning signs and early symptoms to look for. Catching COPD early on offers the best chance at successful treatment, so if you or someone you love experiences any of the early signs or symptoms of COPD, talk to a doctor right away. Since symptoms don’t appear until lung damage has already occurred, treatment should begin immediately upon diagnosis of COPD.
The primary symptom of COPD is a chronic cough, defined as a cough that occurs for at least three months per year for two consecutive years. There are other symptoms that may indicate COPD, as well, including wheezing, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath (especially during physical activity), excess mucus in the lungs (especially in the morning), a blue tint to fingernail beds or lips, lack of energy, unexplained weight loss and frequent respiratory infections.
Although there is no cure for COPD, numerous treatment options are available to help patients live longer, more comfortable lives. When COPD is detected during the earlier stages of the disease, medical treatments and healthy lifestyle changes can often prevent the significant loss of lung function for several years. That said, of the 24 million Americans believed to have COPD, only half have discussed their symptoms with a doctor. The remaining people are putting themselves at greater risk by not receiving immediate treatment. Early COPD treatment is usually simple and highly effective, consisting of bronchodilators and other medications prescribed by your doctor.
The most important step of COPD treatment is to quit smoking. People who smoke cigarettes are more at risk of COPD than any other demographic, especially after smoking heavily for a number of years. Quitting smoking can reduce your risk of developing the disease while also protecting you from life-threatening episodes of COPD exacerbation. Unfortunately, the addictive qualities of cigarettes make this a very hard habit to break. Talk to your doctor if you need assistance with quitting smoking for good.
One of the best things you can do when dealing with COPD is educate yourself about your condition, so you clearly understand what COPD is, how it might affect you, and what your treatment options are. Following your prescribed treatment plan carefully is also necessary in successfully treating your symptoms and preventing further lung damage. Oftentimes, this means asking questions, when necessary, to make sure you fully understand your treatment plan. Think of your physician as a teammate in battling the symptoms of COPD, and keep the lines of communication with your doctor open.
Remember, the better you take care of yourself, the easier treating COPD symptoms will be. If you’re a smoker, quit smoking now. Begin an exercise regimen recommended by your doctor to help improve lung function, if possible, and make sure to eat a healthy diet and cut down on alcohol. You should also limit your exposure to airway irritants, such as second-hand smoke, air pollution and exposure to harsh chemicals or dust, as these can exacerbate COPD symptoms.