Vail Daily column: Take measures to breathe easier | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Take measures to breathe easier

Clinical measurement of physical activity appears to be an independent predictor of whether or not patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease will end up being hospitalized, according to a new study conducted by researchers in Connecticut. The study also corroborates an earlier investigation that linked higher levels of inactivity with an increased incidence of hospitalizations among patients with COPD.

With more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7 percent) being obese, the prevalence of the disease is increasing. Estimates provided by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggest that there are approximately 23.6 million men and women with the disease in the U.S. and more than 52 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 the disease, and the lack of age-adjusted estimates.

COPD is a disease affecting 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 the disease are:

• Constant coughing, sometimes called "smoker's cough."

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

• Excess sputum production.

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• Feeling like you can't breathe.

• Not being able to take a deep breath.

• Wheezing.

(Source: http://www.agingcare.com/Articles/COPD-Is-Your-Elderly-Parent-at-Risk–136488.htm, "An overview of COPD").

Usually, the disease develops slowly over time until the patient realizes how much air he/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 (five out of six people with the disease are smokers, mostly over the age of 40).

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

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

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 their quality of life. First, if your loved one smokes, encourage him or her to stop. The person may never develop the disease, 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 safe-guarding against respiratory illnesses such as the flu or bronchitis because, if your loved one does have COPD, these illnesses will only make breathing that much more difficult.

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

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He can be reached at http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.