Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive disease that affects breathing. Quitting smoking is an effective way to reduce the risk of developing COPD.
COPD causes lung and airway problems that get worse over time. It can cause symptoms such as a persistent cough, a cough with excess mucus, wheezing or wheezing while breathing, and shortness of breath. People with COPD may also experience chest tightness and have difficulty engaging in physical activity.
COPD results from long-term exposure to lung irritants, such as tobacco smoke. These irritants cause emphysema, a condition in which there is damage to the air sacs in the lungs that allow breathing. Irritants can also cause chronic bronchitis or inflammation of the airways. There is currently no treatment for COPD. However, treatment may include a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, or surgery.
Because COPD symptoms can get worse over time, people with the condition will need lifelong treatment to manage symptoms, slow disease progression, and improve their quality of life. Effective treatments can allow people with COPD to carry on with their daily activities.
This article discusses the risk factors for COPD and their prevention.
COPD risk factors
Exposure to irritants that damage the lungs and airways can lead to COPD. These irritants cause emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which constitute COPD. Risk factors can be anything that increases the chances of a disease occurring. Risk factors for COPD may include living or working in environments that increase exposure to irritants or biological vulnerability to lung or airway damage.
Tobacco smoke is a major factor in about 85-90% of COPD cases. Many chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the lungs and airways and increase the risk of respiratory infections. Exposure to second-hand smoke can also increase the risk of COPD. Smoking is the main risk factor for COPD, but many people develop the condition without smoking. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists other risk factors, including:
– exposure to dust, chemicals and fumes
– indoor air pollution, such as from biomass or coal
– events in early life that affected development, such as premature birth
– alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic condition that increases susceptibility to lung disease and other illnesses.
Exposure to these risk factors increases a person’s likelihood of developing COPD.
Prevention of COPD
The most effective way to prevent COPD is to quit smoking or never start smoking.
Quitting smoking is a challenge, but there are many methods people can use to make it easier. Quitting smoking can also involve lifestyle changes, such as avoiding social situations that encourage smoking, such as meeting up with friends who smoke. People can take similar approaches to avoid exposure to passive smoking, which also increases the risk of COPD.
Additionally, it is best to reduce exposure to other lung irritants that can contribute to COPD. For example, people who work in factories or warehouses with chemical fumes or dust should wear protective equipment or change their work environment, if possible.
People who develop COPD can follow these steps to prevent complications or slow disease progression. The WHO suggests regular exercise to reduce these risks in people with COPD. Exercise can increase lung function and improve breathing. She also suggests getting vaccinated against pneumonia, flu and coronavirus. People with COPD are vulnerable to serious illness from respiratory infections and should take extra precautions.
People with COPD need lifelong treatment to manage symptoms, slow disease progression and improve their quality of life. The disease usually begins with no signs or mild symptoms. Affected individuals may need to make lifestyle changes in the early stages, including quitting smoking. More intense treatments may be needed when COPD symptoms worsen. For example, a doctor may prescribe bronchodilators to widen the airways and improve breathing. Some people with COPD may benefit from surgery to remove part or all of a damaged lung in more severe cases.
Effective treatments can help people with COPD manage their symptoms and get on with their daily activities.
When to contact a doctor
Anyone with signs and symptoms of COPD should contact a doctor for a checkup. The doctor will use spirometry to determine if a person has COPD. Spirometry is a test of lung function. Many people with COPD do not know they have the condition or only recognize it when it gets worse. Being aware of the symptoms of COPD and seeing a doctor right away increases the chances of getting an early diagnosis and better treatment.
COPD is a progressive disease that affects breathing. There is currently no cure for COPD, but people can take steps to reduce their risk of developing this disease. Smoking is a major risk factor, and avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke reduces the risk of developing COPD. Avoiding other lung irritants, such as indoor air pollution or chemical fumes, also reduces the risk of COPD.