Featuring Dr. Manuel Jain, lead physician, WellMed at Haines City, Davenport, Florida
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. According to Dr. Manuel Jain, though not curable, COPD is common, preventable and treatable.
Emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma are the most common forms of COPD. Dr. Jain explains that asthma is the easiest to treat because most people can control it with the use of inhalers. All three include some or all of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive phlegm production
- Frequent coughing and wheezing
- Trouble taking deep breaths
Smoking, including vaping, is the primary culprit in most COPD illnesses. That not only includes people who actually smoke but those who have been exposed to secondhand smoke as well. Dr. Jain emphasizes people of any age who have smoked five years or more already likely have chronic pulmonary disorder. He adds that consistent exposure to noxious materials, such as automobile exhaust or asbestos, is another contributing factor.
Our lungs don’t collapse completely when we exhale so some oxygen always remains in our lungs, explains Dr. Jain. Clean air is 21 percent oxygen. Smoking, secondhand smoke and other noxious materials contaminate that oxygen. “Instead of leaving the body when we exhale, those pollutants remain in our lungs, causing irritation,” he says.
COPD is typically diagnosed in one of two ways: chest x-ray or with a breathing test called spirometry. Dr. Jain says many people with COPD do not realize they have it because it is a gradual and progressive disorder. It usually starts with a spastic cough and limited air flow. “A common sign of COPD is the up and down movement of a person’s shoulders when coughing, and their inability to finish a sentence without gasping for air,” says Dr. Jain.
The most important factor in preventing and treating COPD is to stop smoking immediately and if you’ve never smoked, do not start. “Tobacco use is so common because it is available, affordable and legal,” says Dr. Jain. He emphasizes, however, just because you can access it, does not mean you should. He adds, exercise is extremely important for lung function as well, and suggests you should be particular about environmental exposure.
COPD treatment can include the following:
- Pulmonary rehabilitation, which teaches patients how to manage symptoms
- Vaccinations for illnesses that can affect the lungs, such as flu, pneumonia and COVID
- Portable oxygen tank
Importantly, the prognosis is good for most COPD patients once they are diagnosed and begin treatment. Dr. Jain says he has lots of older patients who have lived well for years with a COPD diagnosis. He underscores that in addition to following their treatment plan, they maintain healthy diets and remain physically active.