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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – An Overview

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COPD is a condition that interferes with exhalation. When a person cannot expel all of the expended air in their lungs, then they effectively have less lung capacity for new, oxygen-rich air. In the past, medical professionals would often categorize anyone with difficulty breathing as having COPD. And they would group anyone with COPD together, as if they were just one big disease. Today, however, we know that COPD has many causes. We also know that COPD comes in many forms, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthmatic bronchitis.

Bronchitis, Asthmatic and Chronic

Both forms of bronchitis occur when the bronchi become inflamed. Bronchi are the large airways in the lungs. In order to picture bronchitis, imagine the inside of your lungs being like skin that has become red, swollen and painful due to an insect bite. In reaction to this, air tubes swell and fill with mucus. Mucus makes it difficult to breathe. It also slows healing the way pus does an external wound. Bronchitis can also cause bronchospasm, which is when the muscles surrounding the infected airways tighten when they should not. This narrowing of the airways, along with swelling and inflammation, is what prevents the lungs from expelling all of the expended air, thus limiting capacity. Symptoms typically include shortness of breath, wheezing and even frequent chest infections.

Emphysema

Emphysema occurs when the small air sacs, or alveoli, in the lungs stop functioning. This malfunction reduces the elasticity within the lung and it decreases its ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide with the blood. The major and most common symptom of emphysema is dyspnea, or shortness of breath. Generally, the dyspnea occurs only with heavy exercise at first. Then, as more alveoli die, it occurs with light exercise and eventually with routine activities, such as walking. Those affected by emphysema often also have chronic bronchitis. Because our lungs are so durable, it can take decades before a person actually notices their emphysema. This is unfortunate because when diagnosed early, doctors can do much to treat it. At an advanced stage, emphysema is difficult to treat. However, if the afflicted stops smoking and takes the proper medication, they can lead a comfortable, mostly normal life.

Causes of COPD

Emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthmatic bronchitis and other lesser forms of COPD occur because of one or more of the following factors:

In addition, colds and infections in the chest, nose, sinus and throat, especially when they occur frequently, can also exacerbate COPD and increase the influence of the listed factors. When it comes to serious forms of COPD, such as emphysema, smoking is the leading cause. Hereditary factors can have a major influence on the onset of emphysema as well, but if one doesn’t smoke, they’re unlikely to experience emphysema regardless of any genetic inclination.

Indoor Air Quality Management

It’s extremely important that we do not undervalue the negative affect that airborne pollutants can have on us. When we think air pollution, we tend to think outdoors because this is where the media focus has been. Nevertheless, many of us spend as much as 90% of our time indoors, so poor indoor air quality can have the greatest negative effect on our health. Typically, having a HEPA air purifier in our home is enough to reduce indoor pollutants to a negligible level. An air purifier with a HEPA filter is the most sophisticated and cost-effective way to achieve clean indoor air.

 

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