Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a chronic respiratory condition that involves inflammation of the lungs. This inflammation is usually due to long-term exposure to some type of irritant, such as cigarette smoke, although that is not the only thing that can cause it. In developing countries, it often occurs to those exposed to burning fuel in areas that are poorly ventilated, like burning wood used for cooking. Other potential irritants include:
A small number of patients with COPD have alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency. This is a genetic disorder that can damage lung tissue in the same way as an irritant.
The lungs rely on elasticity to work effectively. When air moves down the trachea or windpipe, it separates into two tubes, called the bronchi. These two tubes divide in the lungs to many smaller tubes that end in tiny air sacs, which pass the oxygen into the bloodstream. For people exposed to an irritant such as cigarette smoke, these critical components – specifically the bronchi and air sacs – lose their natural elasticity, leaving air trapped in the lungs with every exhale.
The symptoms of COPD don't usually appear until there is significant lung damage. It is also a condition that is easily misdiagnosed, which is why it is important to see a pulmonary specialist like Dr. Mehta. Some common symptoms include:
COPD patients often experience what doctors call “exacerbations” of their condition. Essentially, this means their symptoms become worse for a number of days. It's a tell-tale sign of COPD.
It starts with reducing your exposure to the irritant. If you are a smoker, it may be best to quit, as this is the only way to keep the COPD from progressing further. Once that is accomplished, Dr. Mehta and nurse practitioner Li Chin Sun will work with you to find the right treatment formula to keep you comfortable. It may include the use of bronchodilators, inhaled steroids, and various lung therapies like oxygen.
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