It’s the third leading cause of death in the United States, but not everyone is familiar with COPD. Certainly, aging parents, spouses, and other seniors need to know something about COPD, especially if they are among the at-risk population.
What it is
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) defines COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) as simply “a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe (which) can cause coughing that produces large amounts of a slimy substance called mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms.”
It’s called obstructive because the conditions which create COPD obstruct the ability of air to pass in and out of the lungs properly and efficiently. When that happens, breathing becomes difficult, and when breathing become difficult, the whole body suffers.
COPD is often known by other names, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In fact, these two conditions are distinct from each other, but both are forms of COPD.
Many of those people who know something about COPD associate it with smoking. While it is true that smoking is often a major contributing factor to COPD, about 25% of those with COPD have never smoked. Secondhand smoke can cause COPD, but so can other irritants, like chemicals, air pollution, and even, in some cases, dust. In other cases, it may be caused by an uncommon genetic condition.
There’s no cure for COPD, although there are treatments that can help. Aging parents and others are better off preventing COPD from occurring in the first place.
The most effective way to prevent COPD is to never smoke — and if a person does smoke, stopping smoking is crucial to prevent COPD. Many aging parents who have smoked for years find quitting to be very challenging. Working with a doctor and a support group to develop strategies to stop smoking is terribly important.
Other preventative steps include keeping one’s home and work environment free of excessive dust, chemicals, secondhand smoke, and other forms of air pollution. Aging parents who live in an area in which air pollution is high should wear surgical masks when going outdoors, especially for extended periods of time.
Aging parents, home caregivers and others interested in learning more about COPD can attend a webinar on the subject on July 12, 2017. Click here for more information.