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COPD affects millions of Americans; know the symptoms and how to get help

COPD medical chart (NTV News)

More than 12 million Americans suffer from an irreversible lung disease, but early detection can prolong a person's life.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD, is a serious lung condition that mostly affects people 50 years of age and older, and is also seen among many farmers in Nebraska.

"This can happen to anyone. It is more prominent in people with a smoking history, if you've been exposed to smoking, second-hand smoke, or even things like grain dust, asbestos, different things like that can cause permanent lung damage," explained Sara Mackey, director of Respiratory Therapy at Lexington Regional Health Center.

Sometimes confused with asthma or old age, Mackey says patients may cough up mucus, have wheezing, and even experience fatigue.

"Sometimes it is hard to diagnose because it might represent just as another pneumonia, or you might think of it as 'I'm just getting older and things are getting harder.' That might not be the case; there might actually be an underlying disease."

An increase in symptoms can be seen during the winter season.

"The cold weather will affect their lungs, make it harder for them to breath, causing different exacerbation's with their COPD," explained Mackey.

And even though the disease is irreversible, there are ways to improve quality of life, including medication, exercise and one-on-one visits with respiratory therapists, but most importantly, following your doctor's orders.

She said, "If you don't take those steps, if you're not taking your medications, your inhalers like you should, if you're not following your oxygen therapy, if you're not doing home exercises, your condition is just going to decrease that much faster."

If you think you might suffer from COPD, Mackey advises talking to your medical provider about getting an evaluation and getting on the right treatment.

For more information, contact your health provider or call Lexington Regional Health Center at 308-324-8616 or visit their website.

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