Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) is a lung disease caused when lung damage occurs, often through lifelong exposure to irritants like cigarette smoking or toxic chemicals. The lung damage is so severe that it makes it difficult for a person to breathe, and they may tire easily from simple activities. The damage to the lungs in most cases cannot be reversed, so instead, since the disease is a major cause of death, the illness is managed through a variety of techniques.
People with mild COPD normally use inhalers called bronchodilators. These may be short acting, lasting for only a few hours, or long lasting, so they only need be used once or twice a day. Bronchodilators help to reduce wheezing and keep the airway more open — they are essentially the same medications used for asthma.
Some people also benefit from using steroid inhalers for COPD. Steroids can help reduce or address inflammation that can slow the progress of the disease and make breathing easier. They are also specific to the lungs so they don’t have a negative effect on other parts of the body, as do orally taken steroids.
People in more advanced stages of COPD may also require oxygen therapy. They may need access to additional oxygen at all times, or may only use an oxygen mask and tank when they are sleeping and breathing is more likely to become restricted. Though the use of oxygen often used to restrict people to their homes, there are now numerous portable oxygen devices which can be used during the day so people may more easily travel from their homes. Those who need a constant supply of oxygen often get this from a nasal canula, instead of an oxygen mask.
It is extremely important that people with COPD avoid illnesses that can cause bronchitis or pneumonia. This is why people with COPD usually have yearly flu shots. Many also get the pneumococcal vaccination every five years to prevent certain forms of pneumonia.
The person with COPD may work with a wide variety of specialists. Many work with physical therapists to learn exercises that will help increase breathing capacity, and also work the muscles associated with creating exhaustion. Trained psychologists or therapists can work with COPD patients to help them address the life changes involved in having COPD.
Sometimes, COPD is addressed through surgical means. Surgery on the lungs is usually considered a last resort. There two main types called bullectomy and lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS). A bullectomy surgically removes bullae from the lungs; these are air sacs that break during COPD, causing less breathing space. In LVRS, portions of damaged lungs can be removed. Though these surgeries are not without risk, LVRS has shown an improved chance of longer survival rates of COPD.
Another surgical option that may be considered is a lung transplant. This may be a viable option especially for those who contract COPD when they are still relatively young. By completely replacing a damaged lung, and providing the new lung is not rejected, those with a lung transplant may be helped to live a more “normal” life. Problems with this treatment method are low availability of donor organs and high probability of rejecting the transplanted organ after a few years.