Chronic DiseaseRespiratory Disease

As Easy as Breathing

The next umbrella topic in the realm of chronic disease is respiratory disease. More specifically, it can be referred to as ‘chronic obstructive pulmonary disease’.

Wait what?

Chronic – long standing, long term, progressive
Obstructive – blocking/narrowing
Pulmonary – of the lungs
Disease – illness

Got it.

18.5 ballons

More specifically, the umbrella term refers to emphysema, chronic bronchitis and non-reversible asthma. Today let’s focus on emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

But first – let’s take a minute to refresh ourselves on the inner workings of our big beautiful lungs. Fun fact – if the lungs were laid open and flat, they would cover an entire tennis court. This is important because your lungs are busy providing oxygen to your blood and removing waste. The lungs are made up of tiny alveoli, you can think of them as lots of tiny little grapes (approximately 480 million of them) that expand and contract with every breath. The walls of these little grapes are very thin and moist with mucous to allow for oxygen to diffuse into the blood stream faster. The very thin layer of mucous also allows for the alveoli to expand easier with each breath. The lungs attach to a main stem called the brochi that make up the trachea or wind pipe.

Ok, back to emphysema and chronic bronchitis – what exactly are they?

Well, in chronic bronchitis, your bronchi are inflamed and swollen. To try to repair this, your body creates mucous however, this in turn makes it hard to breathe.

In emphysema, the alveoli are damaged and therefore cannot expand as well or, at all. Which makes it harder to breathe.

What causes them?

The most common cause of both emphysema and bronchitis is smoking but they are also caused by workplace exposures like environmental dust or organic materials.

What are the symptoms?

  • Coughing
  • Excessive mucous production
  • Trouble breathing

If you have these symptoms, it is important to follow up with your family doctor. They may refer you for further testing.

These conditions can be diagnosed through Pulmonary Function Tests. These tests measure the volume of air you are able to inhale as well as the flow of air when you inhale and exhale. Based on these measurements, a diagnosis can be made. You may also be referred for a chest x-ray or CT scan to further investigate.

What’s the treatment?

Unfortunately, these diseases cannot be cured however, they can certainly be managed. First and foremost, if you are a smoker, it is important to stop smoking. Other treatments include medications to help decrease mucous production in your lungs as relax your airways to make breathing easier.

How to manage…

Nutrition - An important aspect of the disease to mention is that since it is harder for the body to get enough oxygen due to scarring and perhaps a decrease in number of alveoli, the body gets tired faster. Patients with these diseases often do not get enough nutrition because they are too fatigued to eat a full meal. Because of this, it is important to eat smaller meals more frequently in order to ensure that you are receiving the nutrients you need.

Rehabilitation – There are rehabilitation programs that assist patients in improving their lung volumes and decreases the chances of having an ‘attack’. They also include education for patients living with the disease.

Prevention – It is important to get vaccinated where possible against respiratory illnesses. Because the lungs are fragile, and it is already difficult for patients with COPD to breathe, it is important to prevent any further trauma to the lungs and airways.

Contact us if you would like to book an appointment to discuss how the disease is affecting your life and what you can do to improve your wellbeing.

Today’s pearls:

  • Whether you have a respiratory disease or not, smoking damages your lungs. To prevent this, you should consider quitting
  • Chronic respiratory diseases make it difficult to breathe
  • If you have COPD, you likely fatigue often and should eat smaller, more frequent meals and get vaccinated.

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