Grace Anne was walking down the street with her legal briefcase in hand and she found herself suddenly gasping for air. And this happened many times. “You don’t know if your next breath is coming at all,” she said. She could not walk a 30 meters distance without stopping to catch her breath.
Grace Anne Dorney Koppel via John Hopkins Medicine
The short narrative is based on a true story by Grace Anne Dorney Koppel of what it’s like to experience Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). November is COPD Awareness Month and here are some things you need to know about COPD.
COPD refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. It is not contagious, meaning it cannot be passed from person to person. When you have COPD, less air flows through your airways - the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs - because of a few reasons:
- The airways and tiny air sacs in the lungs lose their ability to stretch and shrink back.
- The walls between many of the air sacs are destroyed.
- The walls of the airways become thick and inflamed (irritated and swollen).
- The airways make more mucus than usual, which can clog them and block air flow.
- COPD is currently the 3rd leading cause of death globally.
- 8 out of 10 COPD-related deaths are caused by smoking.
- 1 out of 4 COPD patients have never smoked a cigarette.
Photo by Olga Kononenko on Unsplash
WHAT CAUSES COPD?
- Cigarette smoking (or other types of tobacco smoke, e.g., pipe, cigar, etc.).
- Secondhand smoke.
- Air pollution.
- Chemical fumes or dust from the environment.
Genetic condition known as alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency.
People with this condition have low blood levels of AAT - a protein made in the liver. Having a low level of AAT can lead to lung damage and COPD if you are exposed to smoke or other lung irritants.
Photo by Gijs Coolen on Unsplash
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE COPD?
In the early stages, you might not show any symptoms.
However, here are some mild symptoms to keep a lookout for:
- A nagging cough (often called “smoker’s cough”)
- Shortness of breath, especially with physical activity
- Wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe)
- Tightness in the chest
As COPD worsens, symptoms may include:
- Having trouble catching your breath or talking
- Blue or gray lips and/or fingernails (a sign of low oxygen levels in your blood)
- Trouble with mental alertness
- Very fast heartbeat
- Swelling in the feet and ankles
- Weight loss
If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, consult your physician and ask for a spirometry test. Spirometry can be done easily and inexpensively, and should be part of any routine medical test.
Here are the spirometers we have available at SM Health Care Sdn Bhd:
- Inhalation capacity and flow rate range of 600cc/sec - 1200cc/sec.
- Removable tube, base and mouthpiece for cleaning purposes to maintain hygiene.
- 3 colour-coded balls / 3 chambers
Triflo II Incentive Spirometer Deep Breathing Exercise
- Inhalation capacity and flow rate range: 600cc/sec - 1200cc/sec.
- 3 colour-coded balls / 3 chambers
- Minimum flow imprinted on each chamber
WHAT CAN I DO TO MANAGE COPD?
1. Never start smoking. 
And if you smoke, quit smoking! This is the most important step you can take to manage COPD.
2. Avoid secondhand smoke and air pollutants.
Make sure you’re in a safe breathing environment and be aware of the quality of air you’re breathing in.
3. Take medication correctly.
- Taking medication correctly is an important part of COPD management.
- Medications are usually inhaled.
- Make sure to inhale the correct dosage as prescribed.
For severe cases of COPD, oxygen therapy is administered as it helps people with severe COPD and low levels of oxygen in their blood to breathe better.
Here are some products for oxygen therapy that we have available at SM Health Care Sdn Bhd:
AirSep® VisionAire 5 Oxygen Concentrator
- Maintenance-free design
- Lightweight and easy transport
- 3 years warranty
AWELD Portable Breathing Oxygen Inhaler
- Lightweight and portable
- Composed of an inhaler tank, connecting valve, breathing mask, button and oxygen
4. Make lifestyle changes. [1,5]
- Exercise regularly. This strengthens the cardiovascular system, thus improving the ability and efficiency of the body’s use of oxygen.
- Eat healthy. Maintaining a healthy BMI is important in patients with COPD.
- Take vitamins and nutritional supplements. This helps to improve respiratory muscle strength.
5. Practise good hygiene.
Wash your hands frequently or use a sanitizer when you’re not able to wash your hands. This helps to prevent infection. This matters because viral respiratory infections are risk factors of COPD.
6. Get vaccinated.
- Vaccinations can reduce serious illness and death in COPD patients.
- It also reduces exacerbations - the increase in severity of illness and the worsening of conditions.
- Grace Anne Dorney Koppel gets a flu shot annually to manage COPD.
- We also encourage you to get the COVID-19 vaccination to reduce exacerbations.
7. Get checked regularly.
- Get regular lung checkups.
- For Grace Anne Dorney Koppel, getting her lungs checked twice a year has become something she practices diligently.
Finally, there is a lot that we can do about COPD and it is not a hopeless disease!
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