older woman sneezing at the park Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the leading causes of death in people over age 65. This inflammatory lung disease causes obstructed airflow, which can lead to difficulty breathing, coughing and wheezing. Although the condition is treatable, it can lead to more serious health conditions like heart disease and lung cancer.

November is National COPD Awareness Month – what do adults need to know about COPD?

How Does COPD Develop?

Two of the most common health conditions that can lead to COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis:

  • Emphysema: Damage to the lungs’ small air passages by cigarette smoke and other irritants.
  • Chronic Bronchitis: Inflammation of the bronchial tube lining that causes a daily cough.

COPD can result from any instance in which our lungs experience significant damage, including tobacco use and exposure to burning fuel or chemical fumes.

Effect On the Lungs

Our lungs are comprised of two large tubes called bronchi that divide into smaller bronchioles, ending in tiny air sacs. These air sacs are full of blood vessels, through which oxygen is passed into the bloodstream. When a person develops COPD, the bronchial tubes lose elasticity, trapping air in the lungs with each breath. The resulting symptoms include chest tightness, shortness of breath, upper respiratory infections and chronic cough.

COPD Prevention

According to the Mayo Clinic, COPD “has a clear path of prevention.” Adults can take the following steps to avoid the development of this chronic disease:

  • Never smoke tobacco or quit now
  • Avoid tobacco smoke and other air pollutants
  • If you’re exposed to dangerous fumes on the job, use respiratory protective equipment

If you are living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the condition is treatable:

  • Coughing and wheezing can be managed with medication
  • Get your flu and pneumonia vaccines to avoid a lung infection
  • Use a portable oxygen tank if necessary
  • Enroll in a pulmonary rehabilitation program to manage your symptoms

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recognizes the importance of respiratory disease management and prevention every November with COPD Awareness Month.
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