Cigarette smoking has been strongly linked to health conditions like heart disease and lung cancer. Other than these two dreaded disease, heavy smoking may also cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This condition causes inflammation and damages the small airways of the lung tissue and may cause breathing difficulties. COPD is usually a combination of two similar conditions: chronic bronchitis and chronic emphysema. Because cigarette smoking is the major cause of these two conditions, they often occur together in the same person. COPD damage is progressive and permanent and has become one of the fastest-growing health problems. It has become the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and is responsible for more than 96,000 deaths annually. Because of these health conditions the need to quit smoking has become more important than ever. Understanding COPD is essential in encouraging smokers to quit this dreaded and potentially fatal habit.
Chronic bronchitis is caused by inhaling bronchial irritants like cigarette smoke, chemical fumes, air pollution, and environmental irritants like mold or dust. Cigarette smoke may increase the risk for infection because it damages the cilia or the small hair-like projections that protect the lungs from bacteria and other foreign particles out of the lungs. This disease develops slowly, middle aged and older individuals have heightened risks of getting diagnosed with bronchitis. Symptoms of chronic bronchitis may include wheezing, expectorating cough, chest pains, and persistent fatigue.
Emphysema is a chronic respiratory disease that is characterized by the enlargement of the alveoli or air sacks. Emphysema may reduce the elasticity of the lungs and may result in the collapse of the bronchioles, the first airway that no longer contain cartilage. As this happens, air cannot leave the alveoli therefore hampering the function of the lungs. The lungs may lose their ability to shrink during exhalation. Reduced exhalation may also reduce the amount of air that is inhaled. Because of this condition, waste air is not easily removed from the lungs and oxygen-rich air is not restored. Individuals with emphysema may have a hard time breathing and oftentimes gasp for air. Emphysema is most common on individuals aged 50 and older and may occur with other respiratory disease like bronchitis.
Causes and symptoms of COPD may include the following:
Lifestyle. Cigarette smoking is by far the most important risk factor for COPD and accounts for at least 80% of all COPD cases. Cigar and pipe smoking can also cause COPD. Air pollution and industrial dust and fumes are the known air pollutants that worsen the ailment. Age. Chronic bronchitis is more common in people over 40 years old; emphysema occurs more often in people 65 years of age and older. Socioeconomic class. COPD-related deaths are about twice as high among unskilled and semi-skilled laborers as among professionals. Family clustering. It is thought that heredity predisposes people in certain families to the development of COPD when other causes, such as smoking and air pollution, are present. Lung infections that can either be viral or bacterial.
Treatment for COPD is dependent on the patient’s condition and the severity of the disease. With a health program that involves respiratory care, disability and other symptoms can be prevented and therefore reducing the occurrence of early deaths. However, no treatments are proven to cure this disease. Certain treatments are only designed to alleviate symptoms and increase survival rate.
Rather than focusing on the cure, lifestyle changes that may prevent the development of COPD should be emphasized. The occurrence of COPD may be prevented if individuals who smoke quit smoking, maintain good nutrition, drink lots of fluids, maintain proper weight, and exercise. Understanding the health risks of of COPD are essential in making smokers quit smoking.