Although many folks look forward to the summer months with warm weather and flowers coming into bloom, those living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can experience a flare-up of their condition during this time. Over 16 million Americans are currently living with COPD, a disease that is also the fourth main cause of disability in the United States. COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is an ongoing lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. In COPD, less air flows in and out of the airways due to damaged air sacs in the lungs,
inflammation, and/or excess mucus. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe and include constant coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, inability to breathe easily or take a deep breath, and excess mucus production. COPD most often occurs in people with a history of smoking (8 out of 10 cases). Exposure to lung irritants – such as air pollution, dust, and chemical or other fumes – in the workplace and exposure to secondhand smoke may also contribute to COPD. In Missouri, the age-adjusted prevalence of COPD among adults aged 18 years and older is 7.9%, ranking 7th highest in the nation.
Once diagnosed with this disease, it’s important to avoid possible triggers and protect your lungs. To protect your lungs:
• Don’t start smoking
• Quit smoking if you smoke
• Avoid secondhand smoke
• If you are exposed to dust or fumes at work, minimize or limit the exposure
• Monitor air quality during the Summer, stay in air conditioned areas and limit outdoor exposure when pollen count is high and/or air quality is poor
With COPD, a cold or other respiratory infection can become very serious. There are several things you can do to protect yourself:
• Wash your hands often
• Use hand sanitizer
• Avoid crowds during the cold and flu season
• Get vaccinated against flu and pneumonia, and encourage family and those around you to do the same
• Good oral hygiene can keep the germs in your mouth from leading to infections. Brush your teeth at least twice a day and see your dentist at least every 6 months
• Ask that family and friends be considerate of your COPD and only visit when they are healthy, which protects you from infection
• See your doctor regularly and take medications as directed
Having a strong support network of family and friends is important, as depression is especially common in COPD patients. Joining a support group or online support community can make challenging times a little easier. The American Lung Association at www.lung.org outlines these and other strategies to manage COPD on their website.
In May 2017, the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a COPD National Action Plan. For more information on this plan and a list of organizations that offer community resources, please visit www.copd.nih.gov .
This article was submitted Lori Rodgers MHA, BSN, RN and Director of Patient Care Services at Saint Luke’s East Hospital. She also serves as a volunteer member of the Lee’s Summit Health Education Advisory Board; a Mayor-appointed, volunteer board that promotes and advocates community health by assessing health issues, educating the public and government agencies, developing plans to address health issues, encouraging partnerships and evaluating the outcomes.