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Smoking and COPD: Living Life One Breath at a Time

Posted by Helen Beamer on June 6, 2018 at 8:00 AM

I love to watch black and white movies from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. However, a darker side of those entertaining musicals, dramas and screwball comedies is the way smoking features in the storyline.

That depiction of smoking was accurate for the time. According to a Gallup poll, about 45 percent of U.S. adults smoked cigarettes, cigars or pipes in 1954. Nowadays, people are more aware of the health risks of smoking. Recent statistics from the CDC indicate about 15.5 percent of adults smoke cigarettes. smoking-cigarettes-copd

Those who quit smoking experience benefits almost immediately, such as lower blood pressure and decreased risk of heart attack. However, years of smoking can have lasting ill effects on lung function. I’ve seen this firsthand in my family.

My father-in-law was a typical business executive in the 1960s – with a cigarette in hand while he worked, drove, golfed, mowed the lawn, watched TV and enjoyed weekly poker games with his buddies from high school. Decades later, it took a brush with death (and open heart surgery) to get him to give up smoking entirely. However, it wasn’t soon enough for his lungs. He began to experience symptoms of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in his 60s.

COPD is a disease that makes it hard to breathe. It results from long-term exposure to substances that damage the lungs – usually cigarette smoke. Some other causes include prolonged exposure to pollution or chemical fumes in the work environment. The two most common conditions that underlie COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Initially, COPD may not cause any symptoms. However, the disease is progressive, which means it becomes worse over time. Typical symptoms include:

  • Frequent coughing with a lot of mucus
  • Inability to take a deep breath
  • Shortness of breath, which is worse during physical activity
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Frequent upper respiratory infections
  • Weight loss (in later stages)

There is no cure for COPD. However, treatments such as medications or oxygen therapy can help. Some ways to manage COPD include:

  1. Don’t smoke. Quitting smoking is the most effective way to prevent COPD or keep it from getting worse. The sooner you quit, the greater the benefit. Limit exposure to secondhand smoke as well.
  2. Get medical care. If you are experiencing symptoms of COPD, seek a medical diagnosis and treatment. Be sure to take your medications as prescribed. If a medication is too expensive for your budget or not covered by your health plan, ask your doctor for an alternative. Don’t skip doses to save money!
  3. Take it slowly. Give yourself time to complete tasks. Rearrange your home and household items, if possible, so you don’t have to climb stairs as much. For instance, sleep in that guest bedroom on the first floor or relocate the washer and dryer to the ground floor.
  4. Pay attention to your overall health. Let your doctor know if symptoms are bothering you more or when you come down with a cold. You might need some extra medications or breathing treatments to turn things around.
  5. Plan for emergencies. Post the phone numbers for your doctor, hospital and family caregivers in a visible place. Keep those phone numbers with you (or program them into your smartphone) along with a list of current medications. If you are on oxygen therapy, have battery backup available if the power goes out. Have an overnight bag packed in case you have to stay with family or go to a shelter for long-term outages.
  6. Get support from friends, family and pets. Let loved ones know your needs. Maybe they can help with a task around the house, a ride to the pharmacy or figuring out your health insurance coverage. Enjoy the frenzied affection of your faithful dog or the cool regard of your independent feline.

For my father-in-law, eventually every breath became a chore, and he relied on his inhaler to get through the day. His weight dropped, his clothing drooped, but his sense of humor and good spirits remained intact. Caring for his golden retriever and showing off pictures of his beloved dogs (past and present) to everyone he could gave purpose to every day.

Living with COPD might not be easy, but you can still live your best life possible. If you or a loved one need help at home due to the challenges of COPD, diabetes, arthritis or other chronic illness, ComForCare and At Your Side Home Care can help. Trained caregivers can provide transportation to medical appointments, light housekeeping, medication reminders, personal care and more. Call us today at 800-886-4044 to learn more.

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Topics: Aging, Healthy Living

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