- sputum (mucus) production
- shortness of breath, especially with exercise
- wheezing(a whistling or rattle type noise) when you breathe in
- tightness in the chest
If you have any of the above symptoms of COPD, it's time to see your doctor. The earlier this disease is diagnosed and treated, the better your chances are at arresting further damage.
If you are diagnosed with COPD, there are different treatments available, depending on how severe your symptoms are. Treatment can and does improve quality of life for many people. While the disease is not reversible, it can be slowed and actions taken to improve breathing. The number one thing you can do to improve your condition if you haven't already is to QUIT SMOKING. If you don't, the disease will progress faster, and the treatments won't help as much as they would if you were smoke free.
Treatment for COPD includes:
- Bronchodilators. Short-acting bronchodilators last 4 to 6 hours with each dose and are used on an as needed basis. Long-acting bronchodilators last about 12 hours and are used daily. Because bronchodilators are inhaled, the medicine goes directly into the lungs, where it's needed.
- Inhaled glucocorticosteroids are steriods prescribed to some COPD patients to help reduce inflammation of the airways. A doctor may try them on a person for 6 weeks to 3 months initially to see if they are of any help.
- Pulmonary Rehabilitation is a program of combined exercise, disease management counseling and training to help the person become more active and do what they can to slow the progression of symptoms.
- Oxygen treatment is used when the patient has severe COPD symptoms, known usually at this point as emphysema. The oxygen level in the blood is too low, which leaves the person quite breathless. Inhaling oxygen will help them get enough oxygen and there will be less difficulty breathing. Depending on the need of the person, a doctor may advise using oxygen for part of the day, or all of the time.
- Surgery is sometimes recommended when other treatments have not provided any relief.
COPD symptoms can worsen very quickly. When this happens, people may find that breathing suddenly becomes much more difficult; they may get a fever; experience more coughing and sputum that has changed colors. Be sure to get in touch with your doctor if this happens to you.
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek emergency help:
- You have trouble talking or walking
- You have a very fast or irregular heartbeat
- Your lips or fingernails are gray or blue
- Your breathing is fast and hard, even after you've used your medications
It's a good idea to put together a list which includes the numbers of your doctor and hospital, as well as what medications you're taking. Make sure you have the numbers of people who can take you to the doctor also, if necessary. Put this list in a central location, such as on the refrigerator. Let other family members know that it's there.
COPD is the 4th leading cause of death in the United States and around the world.
Material for this article was obtained from information about COPD at The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Website. NHLBI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).