COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a disease that makes it harder to breathe. It is a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse as time goes on. COPD can also cause incessant coughing and excessive mucus, shortness of breath, tight chest, wheezing and more. The leading cause of COPD is smoking. Most who suffer from the disease are current or former smokers. Being around a lot of pollution, chemicals in the air, or dust can also cause or contribute to COPD.
COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, and is a major cause of long term disability. More than 12 million people are currently diagnosed with COPD, and many more may have the disease without realizing it. Since it develops slowly, a person may not be aware of the problem until they are having trouble going about their regular activities. The time may come when you can no longer perform even the most routine activities, such as walking, cooking, or playing with your grandchildren.
The term COPD includes two conditions—emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema is characterized by a weakening of the lung tissue. The lungs have many tiny air sacs that transfer oxygen into the body and carbon dioxide out. As the tissue weakens, these sacs are damaged, reducing the efficiency of the gas transfer. In chronic bronchitis the lining in the airways is constantly inflamed and an abundance of mucus further blocks them. Again, the gas transfer is limited. In most cases people with COPD have both conditions.
Because it's caused by personal activities and surroundings, there is no risk of contracting it from someone else. So far there is no way to cure or reverse the damage, but there are things that can be done to slow it's progression and help you feel better and stay active. These include medications, rehabilitation, oxygen therapy, and surgery.
Oxygen can be given to patients to assist their breathing and increase the efficiency of each breath. This treatment can be intermittent, used for more strenuous activities or just part time, or it can be required full time. Pure oxygen is administered through a mask or nasal prongs, increasing your blood oxygen levels. Still, the most important step a person suffering from COPD can take is to quit smoking, to prevent further damage.