COPD Awareness Month 2020 takes place during November in the UK, with Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub taking a closer look at what COPD is and what to do if you think you may have a lung condition.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) describes a group of lung conditions that make it difficult to empty air out of the lungs because your airways have been narrowed.
Two of these lung conditions are persistent bronchitis and emphysema, which can also occur together. This makes it harder to move air in and out as you breathe, and your lungs are less able to take in oxygen and struggle to get rid of carbon dioxide.
An estimated 1.2 million people in the UK are living with the diagnosis, making COPD the second most common lung disease after asthma. Around 2% of the whole population – 4.5% of all people aged over 40 – live with diagnosed COPD. Statistics indicate that Cumbernauld has rates of COPD which are higher than the Scottish average.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, 65 million people globally have moderate to severe COPD, with total deaths from COPD projected to rise unless urgent action is taken. Estimates show that COPD could become the third leading cause of death in the world by 2030.
The importance of recognising and treating COPD has become more pertinent than ever in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with people affected by COPD amongst the at risk group.
CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE (COPD): AN INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
What is COPD?
COPD is a type of obstructive lung disease characterised by long-term breathing problems and poor airflow. The main symptoms include shortness of breath and cough with sputum production.
The disease is progressive, meaning it typically worsens over time. Eventually, everyday activities such as walking or getting dressed can become difficult for people with COPD.
What are the Risk Factors for Developing COPD?
COPD usually develops because of long-term damage to your lungs from breathing in a harmful substance, usually cigarette smoke, as well as smoke from other sources and air pollution. Jobs where people are exposed to dust, fumes and chemicals can also contribute to developing COPD. You’re most likely to develop COPD if you’re over 35 and are, or have been, a smoker or had chest problems as a child.
Some people are more affected than others by breathing in noxious materials. COPD does seem to run in families, so if your parents had chest problems then your own risk is higher.
A rare genetic condition called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency makes people very susceptible to developing COPD at a young age.
Does the Weather or Time of Year Affect COPD?
Cold weather is considered harmful for patients with COPD, and as such the condition is more prominent in winter. During the cold weather, people with COPD are more prone to illness.
A drop in temperature affects the lungs negatively and chronic exposure to cold environments is known to cause dramatic and harmful changes to the respiratory system.
What’s the Difference Between Asthma and COPD?
With COPD, your airways have become narrowed permanently – inhaled medication can help to open them up to some extent. With asthma, the narrowing of your airways comes and goes, often when you’re exposed to a trigger – something that irritates your airways – such as dust, pollen or tobacco smoke. Inhaled medication can open your airways fully, prevent symptoms and relieve symptoms by relaxing your airways.
So, if your breathlessness and other symptoms are much better on some days than others, or if you often wake up in the night feeling wheezy, it may be that you have asthma.
Because the symptoms are similar and because people who have asthma as children can develop COPD in later life, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the two conditions. Some people have both COPD and asthma.
What Should You Do if You Think You Might Have COPD?
Contact your GP if you have persistent symptoms of COPD, particularly if you’re over 35 and smoke or used to smoke. Do not ignore the symptoms. If they’re caused by COPD, it’s best to start treatment as soon as possible, before your lungs become significantly damaged.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and whether you smoke or have smoked in the past. They can organise a breathing test to help diagnose COPD and rule out other lung conditions, such as asthma.
Ordinarily, a range of national awareness and fundraising events and activities would be organised during COPD Awareness Month. This year, because of coronavirus restrictions and the particularly vulnerable position this places those with COPD and their loved ones in, the campaign will primarily take a digital and online focus.
Further information about COPD, including useful advice on how to manage the disease, can be obtained by visiting the COPD section on the British Lung Foundation website.