By Joyce McCain
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. Usually caused by smoking, COPD results in damage to the lungs over many years. Airways to the lungs become narrow, making it hard to breathe.

When your lungs are healthy, the tiny air sacs in the lungs act like balloons. They get bigger and smaller as you breathe in and out. But when you develop COPD the sacs are damaged and can’t stretch as much, making you feel like you can’t catch your breath. Unfortunately, COPD gets worse over time and you cannot undo the damage done to your lungs. You can, however, prevent further damage and take some steps to feel better.

Smoking is the number one cause for COPD, and breathing in tobacco smoke destroys the stretchy fibers in your lungs. Breathing in chemical fumes, dust or air pollution over long periods of time also can result in COPD, as well as breathing in secondhand smoke. Because it takes many years for symptoms to begin to show up, COPD is most commonly diagnosed in people over 60.

How do you know if you showing signs of COPD? Primarily, you have a long-lasting cough, and mucus comes up when you cough. Also, when you exercise the shortness of breath gets worse. People showing signs of COPD also tend to lose weight and get weaker.

Your doctor will ask you a series of questions during an exam for COPD, including whether you’ve had prolonged exposure to COPD-causing irritants. The doctor also usually orders diagnostic tests that will help in assessing your condition.

The best way to slow down COPD is to quit smoking immediately, and it’s never too late to quit. Your doctor also may order medicines that are inhaled straight into your lungs, and you may be a part of lung rehab program to help manage your disease. Look for a certified program with professionals you provide counseling and can teach you how to breathe easier, eat well and exercise. It’s possible that over time you may need to use oxygen to cope with COPD.

Locally, Rutherford Regional Health System is proud to offer a certified Cardiopulmonary Rehab Program. If you have questions about the program or about COPD, feel free to call 828-286-5441.

Joyce McCain is director of cardiopulmonary services, Rutherford Regional Health System.