© Danielle Robertson Consulting Pty Ltd t/as DR Care Solutions
While wearing a mask has been new to many of us this year, the arrival of World Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Day on 18 November prompts the wearing of masks more often, particularly for those household DIY projects, to protect our lungs.
What is COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) encompasses a group of conditions that obstruct airflow into our lungs. They include chronic bronchitis, emphysema, chronic asthma or a combination of these conditions.
What is alarming is the prevalence of COPD in Australia. The Lung Foundation Australia estimates that one in seven Australians over 40 years of age has COPD, and at least 50% of those people do not know they have it.
What causes COPD?
The conditions can develop as a result of:
- Smoking - current, past or passive.
- Environmental factors such as working or living in areas where there is dust, gas, chemical fumes, smoke or air pollution.
- Genetic factors - a form of emphysema is caused by a protein disorder called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency where the body finds it difficult to produce one of the proteins (alpha-1) which protects the lungs.
- Another disease, such as a muscular disorder, that impairs the function of the lungs.
Sometimes the cause is unknown.
What to look for?
Researchers classify COPD symptoms in three stages: mild, moderate and severe.
- The early stages of the disease can be very mild and simply involve shortness of breath ('dyspnea' is the medical term) during a spurt of physical exertion or the coughing of phlegm in the mornings.
- The moderate stage brings shortness of breath when carrying out day-to-day activities such as gardening, household chores, or carrying groceries. It may be accompanied with a constant cough, regular chest infections or long recoveries from cold or chest infections.
- On reaching the severe stage, shortness of breath is experienced during any type of activity, even when resting. There may also be the chronic coughing of phlegm, more frequent chest infections, lengthy recoveries from those infections, and constant tiredness.
Studies have shown that people living with chronic lung conditions use 25 to 50% more energy. The tiredness occurs despite long periods of rest.
The way forward
While there is no cure for COPD, when detected early there are ways to control the symptoms and slow down the progress of the disease. For detection and treatment, speak with your GP.
The progress through the various stages of COPD is gradual. Over time there is less tolerance for exercise and increasing tiredness. This then leads to declining health and quality of life.
Ways of controlling the decline include the age-old sage advice of doing a little exercise each day and maintaining a diet of nutritious foods. Completing a six to eight week pulmonary rehabilitation exercise and education program with a skilled health professional is recommended. The program teaches you how to exercise and manage your breathlessness.
People living with the disease generally find that mornings are the most difficult time of day and that there are certain triggers that can cause the condition to flare up such as fumes, dust, or cold or very humid air. Recent research finds that the COVID-19 virus is lethal to COPD sufferers.
Amongst its incredible expanse of award-winning online resources, the Lung Foundation Australia has released a comprehensive resource package for World Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Day 2020. Take a look at it, particularly the booklet, "Better Living with COPD".
Within its general online resources, I recommend that you read the handy fact sheet on maintaining a low allergen and healthy air quality indoor environment for our lungs.
If you or a loved one are living with COPD and find it difficult to maintain a healthy diet, keep up light exercise and complete daily chores, contact me, Danielle Robertson, to discuss the care support that can be put in place to help you or your loved one improve your quality of life.
Note: Please be aware that my comments in this blog are given as guidance only and are no substitute for professional medical advice.
 Lung Foundation Australia's eBook: Better Living With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
 Lung Foundation Australia's World COPD Day Resource Pack
 Lung Foundation Australia's Air Quality Guide & Fact Sheet