As a senior or someone with an elderly loved one, you will need to keep a closer eye on your health, or the health of your loved one. The main problem can result when chronic illnesses don't make themselves apparent until they've gotten to the severe stage. The sooner a chronic disease is caught, the easier it is to treat. One disease that is a big problem for many older people is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD.
COPD is a chronic lung disease that can go completely undetected for a long time, and advance until it's in its severe stage. It's often brought on by years of smoking, so if someone continues to smoke as an older adult, it will quickly speed up the advancement of the disease.
COPD is a general term for chronic lung diseases that makes it much harder to bring adequate oxygen into the body, and to expel the waste gas, carbon dioxide. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis both fall under this category. In both diseases, the tissues of the lungs are damaged, and they can get worse quickly if not treated properly. In the severe stages, conditions may worsen quickly during an exacerbation, or a “flare up”.
Exacerbations can happen when your lungs are irritated from a cold or any other illness that might affect the lungs. The flu or pneumonia can even be fatal for a senior with COPD. This is why flu and pneumonia shots are so important for seniors with COPD.
Understanding Medications Used for COPD
Medications used to make it easier to breathe are bronchodilators and corticosteroids. These are prescribed by a doctor and can be used daily to avoid and relieve shortness of breath. Prescribed oxygen therapy might be necessary if your blood oxygen level is too low. Prescribed oxygen therapy can be administered at home with oxygen tanks, or an oxygen concentrator. Medical oxygen is considered a medicine because you will need to follow the dosage prescribed by your doctor.
Since smoking tobacco causes around 90% of all cases of COPD, you will need to quit smoking as soon as possible. Another 9% of COPD cases are caused by prolonged exposure to air pollutants. The remaining 1% are caused by a rare disease called alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency. In people with AAT deficiency, their bodies do not produce a certain protein that protects the lungs.
If you can quit smoking and avoid most air pollutants, you've taken a big step in ensuring you don't develop COPD. Smoking in the past might also cause you to develop it later, but it will be easier to manage. You'll also generally have a much better quality of life the sooner you quit smoking.
The early warning signs of COPD include chronic fatigue, shortness of breath and swollen ankles. These could also be warning signs for other problems, so you should see your doctor if you are experiencing any of these signs.
Living with COPD
Aside from taking your medicine and following the advice of your doctor, there are things you can do to make living with COPD much easier. An exercise regimen can make a great positive impact, as well as working with a respiratory rehabilitation therapist. Good nutrition can also make a huge difference on how you feel, and how healthy you stay. Always check with your doctor before starting any new workout routine, or ask to be referred to a respiratory rehabilitation therapist.