All Posts Tagged: COPD

7 Ways to Tame COPD Flare-Ups in Winter Months

If you’re a COPD sufferer whose symptoms are worse in the winter, you’re not alone. Studies show that the number of patients needing treatment for COPD exacerbations is twice as high in the winter as during the summer.

Why is this so? One reason is that cold weather affects the lungs by causing dramatic changes to the respiratory system. For some individuals, breathing cold, dry air forces their body to produce more shifts in temperature and moisture in the airway because there is a greater volume of air that needs to be warmed and humidified.

No matter the exact cause, the bottom line is that COPD sufferers need to take extra precaution in the winter to avoid serious flare-ups – not the least of which is avoiding the frigid air as much as possible. Here are some strategies:

  • Always Cover Your Nose and Mouth

Covering your nose and mouth while outdoors in the winter is essential if you’re a COPD sufferer. A scarf works well, as does a painter’s mask. At the least, cup your hands and use them to cover your nose and mouth.

  • Get Flu and Pneumonia Shots
    Viruses and infections will make your COPD symptoms worse. Make sure you get a flu shot annually and consult with your physician about getting a pneumonia shot.
  • Wash Your Hands
    Your mother was right – you need to wash your hands! Seriously, a strong defense against germs and COPD symptoms is a high standard of hygiene. Carefully wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. It’s even more important when you’re in public places.
  • Stay hydrated
    Drinking plenty of water will make it easier for you to breathe, especially if you have a respiratory infection.
  • Avoid People Who Are Sick
    It’s sometimes easier said than done, particularly in a workplace (or if you work with and around children), but it’s important to avoid sick people whenever possible. If you do catch a cold or the flu, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.
  • Add Humidity To Your Air
    Keeping your home from becoming too dry during the winter months is also essential if you suffer from COPD. Use a humidifier and clean it every other day to keep it functioning at its optimal level.
  • Avoid Smoke and Fumes
    This is an important strategy at any time of the year, but take extra caution in the winter if you’re heating your home with a fireplace, kerosene, or by other means. Lung irritants such as wood smoke can cause COPD exacerbations.

How to Know That You’re Having a Flare-Up

There are numerous signs that indicate when you’re having a COPD flare-up:

  • Your shortness of breath is suddenly worse and you experience wheezing.
  • You’re coughing more – with or without mucus.
  • If you have mucus, the amount or color may change.
  • You have a fever.
  • You suddenly feel very tired.
  • You become confused or depressed.

No matter what your symptoms are, it’s always important to see your doctor when they get worse. Prevention strategies combined with prompt action will help you stay healthy throughout the winter months.

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Understand Your Risk: COPD and Pneumonia

November is COPD Awareness Month, and it focuses on a disease that’s the third-leading cause of death in the United States. It’s also a disease that more people suffer from than ever before – while many others have it and don’t know it.

Fortunately, COPD and pneumonia are manageable with the right health care approach. Moreover, identifying who’s most at risk for developing COPD is clearly important, as is educating family members and caregivers about the disease and its effects.

What is COPD?

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a lung condition that affects a person’s ability to breathe. Many serious and life-threatening complications can arise from COPD, including pneumonia.

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a lung infection that actually describes some 30 types of infections. It’s dangerous because it reduces the amount of oxygen in the body – sometimes greatly – and can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, or inhaled particles or liquids. For COPD patients, life-threatening complications can develop rapidly and be fatal if not treated. People who suffer from COPD and other lung conditions are at a greater risk of developing pneumonia.

How is Pneumonia Treated?

If your physician suspects that you may be suffering from pneumonia, he or she may order a chest X-ray, CT scan, blood tests, and other tests to determine the cause of the infection. If it’s due to a bacterial infection, antibiotics will likely be your first treatment. It’s important to not only take antibiotics as directed but to take all of them. Halting your antibiotics can allow the bacteria to come back stronger than ever.

Viral pneumonia will likely require antiviral medications, and your doctor may prescribe an inhaler or oral steroid.

No matter the type of pneumonia, treatment must be immediate to prevent permanent damage to the lungs. Treatment may even include a stay in an intensive care unit, and a ventilator will speed oxygen to depleted cells, as well as eliminate excess carbon dioxide.

Who’s Most at Risk?

Smoking is the main risk for COPD and many people who smoke or used to smoke suffer from COPD. Other risk factors include:

  • Age. Most people who have COPD are at least 40 years old when they first notice symptoms.
  • Long-term exposure to lung irritants such as secondhand smoke, chemical fumes and dust from the workplace or environment, and air pollution.
  • Family history. People who have a family history of COPD are more likely to develop the disease, particularly if they smoke.

What are Symptoms?

The signs of COPD and pneumonia can include:

  • Shortness of breath that doesn’t improve but gets worse.
  • A chronic cough. In the case of pneumonia, you may cough up a dark yellow or green mucus.
  • Congestion that lasts for more than a few days.
  • Fever, chills, and ongoing fatigue.

At first, COPD may cause only mild symptoms, but symptoms grow worse over time. And severe COPD can cause other symptoms, such as a fast heartbeat, swelling of the feet, ankles, and legs, and weight loss.

The Importance of Prevention

If you suffer from COPD, it’s crucial that you do everything you can to prevent pneumonia. The easiest thing you can do is get an annual pneumonia vaccine. Getting a yearly flu shot is also important, because illnesses like the flu can easily lead to pneumonia in people with COPD. And keeping yourself as physically healthy as possible through diet and exercise is another important preventive measure.

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COPD Sufferers: What to Ask Your Healthcare Provider

If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)  you understandably have a lot of concerns. Aside from the breathing difficulties you’re experiencing, you have a lot of questions for your healthcare provider, including what is COPD and what are your treatment options. The bottom line is that your respiratory health is too important to not get all the information you can about COPD. Here are some important questions to ask your doctors.

What is COPD?

Your healthcare provider will tell you that COPD is a broad term to describe a variety of progressive lung diseases, including chronic bronchitis, asthma and emphysema. As you’re already aware, COPD’s primary symptom is increasing breathlessness as your body is unable to properly process oxygen through your lungs. You’ll also learn that you may have had COPD for longer than you think because you may not have noticed earlier symptoms. When it comes to their respiratory health, many people associate breathlessness as a natural part of aging, which isn’t true.

What causes COPD?

While your healthcare provider will tell you that smoking is the number one cause of COPD, he or she will also explain that there are other risk factors, as well. Those risks include genetic factors (AAT deficiency), working in high-risk industries that expose you to non-organic dust, such as mining and plastic manufacturing, as well as indoor pollution, such as second-hand smoke and radon.

What happens if I quit smoking?

If you’re a smoker, you’re well-aware of its dangers and harmful effects to your overall health, especially respiratory health. But here are some other facts you’ll want to take into consideration:

  • When you stop smoking the level of carbon monoxide in your blood is cut in half within 12 hours.
  • Your lungs will begin to repair themselves within a few weeks after you quit smoking.
  • By your 10th year of non-smoking, your lung cancer risk will be cut in half.

Will my medication have side effects?

Ask your doctor about any side effects that may occur from taking COPD medication. One important concern you should have is whether treatment for your condition could potentially damage other, healthy parts of your body.

What other changes can I make?

Quitting smoking will have a significant effect on the progression of COPD. But diet and exercise can also have a positive impact on your respiratory health. Ask your doctor about exercise programs designed specifically for COPD sufferers.

Will I need to be on oxygen?

Your doctor will measure the amount of oxygen in your blood by using a pulse oximeter, or by drawing blood. The goal is to keep your oxygen saturation level above 88 percent.

What stage am I in?

COPD is divided into four stages: mild, moderate, severe and very severe. Your doctor will determine what stage you’re in by using a pulmonary function test called spirometry. It’s important to note that COPD affects everyone differently, and can be determined by a variety of factors – including whether you smoke, how much you exercise, and your diet.

What shots or vaccines will I need?

It’s recommended that everyone with COPD should get a pneumonia shot – generally every five years – because pneumonia can easily deteriorate lung health. Flu shots are also important because the flu also weakens your lungs.

 

Choosing the right health provider is important in treating your overall respiratory health.

 

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Asthma Symptoms: 5 Signs Your Shortness of Breath is Serious

If you suffer from shortness of breath, you’re not alone. It’s a common symptom and one that prompts many people to see a doctor or seek other medical treatment. Knowing when your shortness of breath is an emergency isn’t always easy. It can be the result of hyperventilation, acid reflux, or a panic attack – cases when shortness of breath usually recedes on its own – or more serious issues involving your respiratory health. There are many possible causes of shortness of breath, as well as signs that it’s time to seek medical help.

Shortness of Breath and Its Causes

There’s no clear definition of shortness of breath, but most people describe it as a feeling of being unable to get enough air, or that breathing takes more effort than usual. Some people may feel chest tightness. Shortness of breath may come on in a matter of minutes, or develop chronically over much longer lengths of time.

In the vast majority of cases, shortness of breath is because of conditions related to the heart and lungs. Some of the more common causes include:

  • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
  • Asthma
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart attacks or congestive heart failure
  • Pulmonary embolism (a blood clot that travels from another part of the body to the lungs)
  • Obesity
  • Lung disease
  • Bronchitis or pneumonia
  • A collapsed lung
  • If shortness of breath is chronic – meaning it has lasted for weeks or longer – it’s often due to any of the above causes.

Signs That You Should Call A Doctor

Your respiratory health is too important to ignore shortness of breath symptoms, but some signs should never be ignored:

  • Swelling in your feet and ankles
  • Trouble breathing when you lie flat
  • High fever, chills and cough
  • Wheezing
  • When your pre-existing shortness of breath worsens

COPD

COPD is a chronic lung disease that, as mentioned, is one of the most serious causes of shortness of breath. It’s considered a progressive disease in that its symptoms may be mild at first but become more severe over time. The symptoms of COPD may vary and include:

  • Chronic cough
  • Coughing up mucus
  • Labored breathing during both exercise and resting
  • Wheezing
  • Frequent colds or flu
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent morning headaches
  • Weight loss

People who suffer from COPD are also likely to have episodes known as exacerbations in which their symptoms suddenly become worse and persist for several days.

Asthma

Asthma is caused by inflammation of the bronchial tubes. This inflammation also results in the production of sticky secretions inside the tubes. When it comes to your respiratory health, asthma – like COPD – should never be taken lightly. Its symptoms are very similar to those associated with COPD: coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and, of course, shortness of breath.

As with COPD, asthma sufferers may go extended periods without experiencing any symptoms before having periods of systems (or asthma attacks). Others may only experience asthma during exercise, or when suffering from viral infections such as colds.

Evaluating Shortness of Breath

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may evaluate your shortness of breath by using pulse oximetry to estimate the amount of oxygen in your blood, an EKG, a chest x-ray, blood work, or pulmonary function tests.

It’s important to note that while you may suffer from COPD or asthma, your symptoms can still be managed – and allow you to lead a normal life – with the right health care team working with you.

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