The most common lung disease causing difficulty in breathing due to blockage in the airways and out of the lungs progressing over a period of time is known to be Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. When a person breathes air, it moves into the windpipe and enters the tube like structures in the lungs called bronchial tubes or airways. The bronchioles are thin tubes cropping in the bronchial tubes ending with round sacs called alveoli. The air sacs are filled with blood vessels of a smaller size called capillaries on its walls. The exchange of air happens when the oxygen in the air passes through air sac walls into the capillaries and carbon dioxide moves from the capillaries into the air sacs simultaneously. The air sacs stretch in and out while breathing.
In chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the elastic movement of the airways and the air sacs is absent. The walls of the airways are thickened and mucus is produced more intensively that it obstructs the air from flowing.
The three main forms of conditions occurring with the obstruction of airways are:
Emphysema: This happens when most of the walls of the air sacs are destroyed and the terminal bronchioles, the passage of the lungs, have air spaces enlarging its size beyond normal. It even causes destruction to the walls of the air sacs. A patient with emphysema feels difficulty in expelling air from the lungs.
Chronic Bronchitis: This condition results in constant irritation and inflammation in the sensitive line of airways. The collection of excessive thickened mucus in the airways makes a person difficult to breathe.
Bronchiectasis: This condition occurs with the airways enlarging due to inflammation and infection of mucus that gets gathered in it. The result of it is said to have an obstruction of airways.
The symptoms show a slow development. So it is very difficult to identify the disease.
- Severe ongoing cough with mucus
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme tiredness
- Other respiratory infections
- Tightness in chest
- Discoloration of the skin
- Loss of weight
- Failure of right side of the heart
- Frequent cold or flu
- Bluish color on the lips
- Swelling in the ankles, legs or feet
Initially the symptoms may be mild but they may become worse over a period of time.
The most important cause for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is cigerette smoking and using other types of tobacco. People who are exposed to gases in factories and chemical fumes are at a risk. Sometimes second hand smoke and pollution with heavy smoke would also cause the disease. Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, caused genetically, might lead to low levels of AAT, a protein produced by the liver which in return leads to the occurrence of COPD. Respiratory infections cause damage to the lungs resulting in the obstruction of airways.
Initially, the persistence of cough with mucus is analyzed as the first step of diagnosis. The physician might go for a physical check up like listening to the wheezing sound. A test to observe the functioning of the lungs is done in order to check the in and out breathing and lungs delivering oxygen to the blood. A simple test called Spirometry is said to be the best lung function test. The patient is advised to blow air into a machine called Spirometer which measures how much air he/she breathes out and the time taken to blow air out. Instead, it measures the capacity of the lungs. X-rays and CT scan of the lungs would also help to diagnose the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A pulmonary function test assesses the severity of the disease. An arterial blood gas test might become necessary at times to test the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. In other cases, a pulse oximeter is kept on the finger to examine the saturation of oxygen.
The treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease must begin with changing the lifestyle of a person. Quitting smoking, taking vaccinations and medications, pulmonary rehabilitation, surgery might help a patient to get treated from the disease to a large extent. Antibiotics like amoxicillin, cefaclor and azithromycin help in chronic infections. In most cases bronchodilators are used to open the airways and make breathing comfortable. The inhaling of steroids reduces swelling in the airways. Oxygen therapy improves breathing in patients who have low levels of oxygen. Vaccines might help in reducing the risk of acquiring flu or pneumonia. A pulmonary rehabilitation program improves the quality of life by advising patients on different aspects like disease management, nutrition, exercises and handling psychological problems. The program ensures them to be more active and perform activities with ease. Bullectomy, lung volume reduction and lung transplant are some of the surgeries that would benefit when the disease doesn’t respond to medicines.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease might result in high blood pressure in the arteries. The patients might be affected by constant cold, flu or pneumonia and other respiratory infections. There is often a risk of developing heart diseases. Unable to perform daily activities, the patients might get depressed due to severity of the disease. Serious complications for the disease can be overcome with treatment given at the right time.
Quitting smoking would be the best preventive measure to avoid lung diseases. Avoiding smoking areas and limiting the usage of air pollutants would also prevent such diseases. Avoiding the exposure to pollution, dirt, dust and chemical fumes might lessen the chance of getting cold, flu or other respiratory diseases.
A healthy diet might help in strengthening the immune system to fight against infections. Simple physical exercises might also help in easing symptoms of the disease. It is important to take adequate rest.
As the disease is not completely curable, it is better to improve the quality of life. The easiest way to prevent such a disease is not to cultivate the habit of smoking or to quit smoking.