Breathing is the simplest and most natural act. It is so natural that we don’t even think about it while we do it. However, for people with COPD, it is not so straightforward. If you suffer from a chronic lung condition, your quality of life can be significantly affected. However, there are a few things that you can do to enjoy life and live well.
Dr John Chinegwundoh, COPD expert - Consultant Respiratory Physician at NVH, has written some tips on how to manage COPD symptoms and have a good quality of life.
COPD affects 1.2 million people in the UK
1.2 million people in the UK suffer from COPD, and its prevalence has risen by 27% over the last ten years.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease refers to a group of lung conditions that affect your ability to breathe. It is progressive and permanent, and it is the second most common lung disease after asthma.
90% of people affected by COPD have a history of smoking. There is also a genetic factor that can increase the risk of developing a lung condition.
What diseases does COPD include?
The term COPD includes many diseases that progress with time and damage the lungs:
A condition where air sacs, the alveoli, deteriorate and lose the ability to absorb oxygen. Air stays “trapped” in the lungs and you experience shortness of breath and difficult exhalation.
• Chronic bronchitis
Bronchitis occurs when the bronchial tubes, the airways in the lungs, are irritated, causing cough and mucus to come up. If left untreated, it can become chronic, and the breathing is affected by a constant cough and mucus.
• Refractory asthma
A type of asthma that does not respond well to medication. Airways become tight and swollen, making it difficult to breathe.
How do I get diagnosed with COPD?
If you smoke or have smoked in the past, you often feel short of breath, have a persistent cough, feel wheezy when walking or doing light housework, it is worth to having your lung health checked.
However, symptoms don’t always manifest immediately.
If you are over 40, have a history of smoking, are exposed to pollution and a family member suffers from COPD, it is advisable to see a respiratory doctor.
Tests to diagnose COPD
The test that gives you an immediate response on how well your lungs are functioning is the spirometry test.
The spirometry test is a non-invasive examination where you need to blow air into a tube connected to a spirometry machine. It measures the air capacity of your lungs and how fast you can empty your lungs when you exhale.
In some cases, imaging tests can be prescribed, such as an x-ray or a CT scan, and which can help to check the status of your lungs.
It is really important to get tested by a respiratory physician to receive a prompt diagnosis and treatment, to help you manage symptoms and monitor your disease.
How can you improve your life if you live with COPD?
Your quality of life, will vary depending on how serious your diagnosis is.
However, you can live well with COPD.
There are a number of adjustments that you can make to enjoy life and to make sure your condition doesn’t affect every aspect of your day to day living.
Some of the things that you can do are:
• Quit smoking
The chemicals freed while smoking damage your lung cells and trigger a defence mechanism in your body that destroys them, aggravating your condition. Every time you smoke, you take away the opportunity to live a long and healthy life.
• Learn breathing techniques
Learn the best techniques, such as pursed-lip breathing (PLB), exhaling through tightly pressed lips and inhaling through the nose with the mouth closed; or deep breathing, contracting the diaphragm so that inhaled air causes the stomach to expand rather than the chest to rise. Such techniques can greatly enhance your lung efficiency.
• Take part in physical activity
Despite what the majority of people might think, if you suffer from COPD, being moderately active, strengthens your muscles and improves your lung capacity. Weak muscles consume more oxygen, and your breathing will be less efficient.
• Get a flu jab
The flu vaccine is always advisable if you have been diagnosed with COPD. Complications from influenza can be life-threatening, and a flu vaccine helps in reducing the risks associated with it. One recent study links the flu jab to a lower rate of influenza-related hospitalisation in COPD patients.
• Follow a healthy lifestyle
A well-balanced diet and a healthy weight can contribute to keeping symptoms under control. Avoid dusty places and exposure to chemicals and pollutants, and take care of your emotional wellbeing.
COPD can be debilitating, but early detection, together with medical supervision and treatment, as well as your own motivation and self-discipline, can really make a difference to the quality of your life.