Vail Daily column: Take action to prevent COPD in your loved ones | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Take action to prevent COPD in your loved ones

Judson Haims
Special to the Daily

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease impacts more people than the elderly. Reports from the Mayo Clinic indicate that symptoms may present themselves in people as young as 40. Further, the American Journal of Managed Care has provided data that indicates COPD is projected to become the third-leading cause of death by 2020. Costing Americans more than $32 billion a year, this is a serious and all too preventable disease.

With more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7 percent) being obese, and about 15 percent of U.S. adults still smoking, the prevalence of COPD is increasing. Estimates provided by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute suggest that there are approximately 16 million men and women with COPD in the United States and more than 65 million sufferers around the world. The worldwide prevalence is likely to be underestimated for several reasons, including delays in establishing the diagnosis, the variability in defining COPD and the lack of age-adjusted estimates.

COPD is a disease which attacks the lungs, making it very difficult to breathe normally. Airways are partially blocked, resulting in labored breathing. Patients never really get all of the air they need, which causes fatigue when performing even the mildest of activities, such as walking down a hallway. Symptoms of COPD are:

• Constant coughing, sometimes called "smokers cough,"

“While there are a number of treatments for COPD, education plays a key role in taking charge of the symptoms. Information on lifestyle choice, therapy options, medical advances and a good relationship with a doctor play a big part in disease management.”

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• Shortness of breath while doing activities you used to be able to do,

• Excess sputum production,

• Feeling like you can't breathe,

• Not being able to take a deep breath

• And wheezing.

Usually, COPD develops slowly over time until the patient realizes how much air he or she is not getting. This loss of air intake is possibly due to one or more of a combination of factors:

1. Smoking is a common denominator (5 out of 6 people with COPD are smokers, mostly older than 40).

2. Environmental exposure: Sustained exposure to air pollutants or secondhand smoke or even certain chemicals may contribute to the development of COPD.

3. Genetic factors: AAT, or alpha-1 antitrysin deficiency, is a genetic condition that might predispose a person to COPD.

You may not be able to stop the development of COPD in someone you love; however, there are certain actions you can take for that person in the hopes that he or she may not contract this disease, and in the process, you might improve his or her quality of life.

First, if your loved one smokes, encourage him or her to stop. The person may never develop COPD, but the smoker's overall health will be better as a result of the cessation of the smoking habit. Secondly, have your loved one visit his or her doctor regularly, and if any of the breathing symptoms mentioned above are evident, inform the doctor. He or she may suggest a spirometry, which is a lung-function test.

Lastly, work at safeguarding against respiratory illnesses such as the flu or bronchitis because if your loved one does have COPD, then these illnesses will only make breathing that much more difficult.

While there are a number of treatments for COPD, education plays a key role in taking charge of the symptoms. Information on lifestyle choice, therapy options, medical advances and a good relationship with a doctor play a big part in disease management. As always, remember that being proactive is the best form of medicine.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.