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Understanding Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

I have a friend whose mother has been a smoker for nearly 65 years. Earlier this year, she was diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer when a small anomaly was found on a routine CT scan she undergoes for her Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

The senior woman was successfully treated with radiation for lung cancer, and she has cut back significantly on the number of cigarettes she now smokes daily. However, my friend’s Mom, has admittedly enjoyed smoking since she was 12 years old, and the habit has been too hard for her to break. Nicotine addiction has a strong hold on her, so she takes medication and uses inhalers for COPD.

I share this story because November has a long list of monthly awareness themes, including Lung Cancer and COPD. In addition, the Great American Smoke Out is recognized on the third Thursday of November each year to encourage smokers to stop smoking tobacco for 24 hours, with the hope that one day without tobacco will lead to two or more.

I am not a smoker, but I sympathize with those who struggle with kicking the habit and who suffer from COPD in the Clearwater area. Part of our specialized care services at Home Helpers includes aid for people with COPD, so it’s important we all understand more about the disease.

What is COPD?

Healthline estimates that as many as 30 million Americans have COPD which is “a group of lung diseases” that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

“Emphysema slowly destroys air sacs in your lungs, which interferes with outward airflow. Bronchitis causes inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes, which allows mucus to build up,” Healthline says.

What Causes COPD?

Smoking is the primary cause of COPD for men and women over the age of 40. It encompasses cigarette smokers, cigar smokers, pipe smokers, and people exposed to prolonged second-hand smoke.

In addition, exposure to chemicals and fumes at work, air pollution, and dust, may also cause COPD.

Plus, Healthline says, “There may be a genetic predisposition to developing COPD. Up to an estimated 5% of people with COPD have a deficiency in a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin. This deficiency causes the lungs to deteriorate and also can affect the liver. There may be other associated genetic factors at play as well.”

Stages of COPD

There are four stages of COPD based on a grading system known as GOLD classification that serves to determine the patient’s prognosis and treatment plan. These stages are:

  • Grade 1 – Mild
  • Grade 2 – Moderate
  • Grade 3 – Severe
  • Grade 4 – Very Severe

“As the disease progresses, you’re more susceptible to complications such as respiratory infections, common colds, flu, and pneumonia; heart problems; high blood pressure in lung arteries (pulmonary hypertension); lung cancer; and depression and anxiety.”

Medications and Treatment Options for COPD

The following medications and treatment options help symptoms of COPD and reduce flare-ups:

  • Inhaled Bronchodilators – Help relax tight muscles in the airways through inhalation of medication via inhaler devices or nebulizers.
  • Corticosteroids – Applied through inhalers or pills, these medications help reduce inflammation and mucus production. They are long-acting bronchodilators that also relax airway muscles and help them stay expanded.
  • Phosphodiesterase-4 Inhibitors – This medication is a pill for patients with severe COPD and chronic bronchitis that helps reduce inflammation and relax airways.
  • Theophylline – An older medication that isn’t typically the first-line treatment physicians choose, it can ease chest tightness and shortness of breath.
  • Antibiotics and Antivirals – These are used to treat respiratory infections associated with COPD.
  • Vaccines – These are used to reduce the risk of respiratory infections and include annual flu shots, pneumococcal vaccines, and tetanus booster shots for protection from whooping cough.
  • Oxygen Therapy – When blood oxygen levels are too low, oxygen therapy may be ordered for use at home through a mask or nasal annual to help patients breath better. Portable units are available.
  • Surgery – A variety of surgical procedures may be recommended for severe cases of COPD with emphysema, and lung damage, and may include transplantation. “In 2018, an EBV device called the Zephyr Endobronchial Valve was approved by the FDA and has been shown to improve lung function, exercise capacity, and quality of life for patients living with emphysema,” Healthline reports.
  • Lifestyle Changes – Making adjustments in your lifestyle can help reduce symptoms and provide relief, such as stopping smoking; avoiding secondhand smoke and chemical fumes; developing a healthy meal plan and getting the proper nutrition; and identifying how much exercise is safe with your primary care physician.

My friend’s Mom takes several medications, her COPD is stable right now, and she is living independently at home where she is most comfortable. Her son-in-law and grandchildren help with yardwork and housework when they visit, and she is currently capable of managing activities of daily living with relative ease.

If you have COPD or you know someone with COPD who would benefit from the assistance of a highly-skilled, compassionate COPD-trained caregiver who can help with activities of daily living, transportation assistance to/from doctor appointments, homemaking services, or grocery shopping and meal preparation for a healthier diet, I offer a FREE consultation to assess specific needs and discuss the many ways Home Helpers® can make life easier every day!

We, at Home Helpers® Clearwater, are honored to have received the Home Care Pulse – Best of Home Care® Provider of Choice Award 2016-2022 and the Best of Home Care® Employer of Choice Award 2022. We proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson, and surrounding areas. Home Helpers®…we are Making Life Easier℠ 727.942.2539