People used to speak of emphysema or chronic bronchitis, but Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (or COPD as it is generally referred to) is a collective term used to describe several chronic lung diseases, which limit airflow to and from the lungs.
COPD is much more than a so-called "smoker’s cough". It's a serious, progressive life-threatening disease, which causes ongoing breathing difficulties – and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2015 it killed more than three million people worldwide.
A large international study established that the highest prevalence of Stage 2 or higher COPD was among people in Cape Town, South Africa, and it surmised that both smoking and occupational dust were responsible.
The causes of COPD
Tobacco smoke (this includes second hand exposure), pollution (especially indoor air pollution from cooking fuels in low-income contries) and fumes, as well as frequent lower respiratory infections during childhood can all be causes of COPD. Many people are exposed to fumes, dust and pollution while at work.
About 2–3% of people with COPD have a DNA defect, which can lead to the development of this lung disease.
The WHO estimates that by 2030 tobacco-related deaths will increase to 8.3 million per year.
The symptoms of COPD
This disease develops slowly and mostly affects people over 40. The disease is characterised by breathlessness, a chronic cough and mucus production. From time to time, these symptoms can worsen, making everyday activities that are slightly strenuous, such as walking up a flight of stairs or carrying things, difficult.
Required lifestyle changes if you have COPD
It is essential that you stop smoking, and also avoid spaces where other people smoke. Also avoid polluted or dusty areas. If you have COPD, a bout of flu can have serious consequences; it is therefore a good idea to get flu vaccines every year in order to avoid this. A healthy diet and regular exercise are both also essential to maintain your health and manage your COPD.
Medical treatment of COPD
Healthcare professionals prescribe medication for people with COPD to achieve three major things: to reduce shortness of breath, control coughing and wheezing, and prevent COPD flare-ups.
Bronchodilators make breathing easier by relaxing the muscles around your airways. In more serious cases, inhaled corticosteroids may also be prescribed. In severe cases, patients benefit from long-term oxygen therapy.
To people with COPD, even a common cold can easily lead to a more serious lower respiratory tract infection, making it even more difficult to breathe than usual. People with COPD need to alert their doctor if their COPD symptoms get worse. Treatment may include inhaled medications, oxygen and antibiotics. It is important to note that antibiotics can help to treat a bacterial infection, but not any condition (like the common cold) caused by a virus.