COPD: Why It Takes Your Breath Away

COPD: Why It Takes Your Breath Away

COPD: Why It Takes Your Breath Away

COPD effects on the chest and lungs with a red and blue image

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems, according to the CDC.

This disease affects 16 million Americans that have been diagnosed and are receiving treatment. This number does not count for the millions of others that are living with this debilitating disease and have gone undiagnosed. While there is no cure for COPD, there are treatment options. So, what causes COPD and what other facts are known about this disease that literally takes your breath away?

Causes of COPD

According to the Mayo Clinic, the main cause of COPD is tobacco smoking. However, in parts of the world that are still working to become fully developed, COPD is caused by being exposed to fumes from burning fuel used for cooking and heating homes with poor ventilation.

Additional Causes of COPD:

  1. Exposure to air pollution
  2. Breathing secondhand smoke
  3. Working with chemicals, dust and fumes
  4. A genetic condition called Alpha-1 deficiency
  5. A history of childhood respiration infection

Diagnosing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

There is one simple test to test pulmonary or lung function: spirometry. This test measures how much air you can inhale and exhale and the speed at which both occur. This test is also used post diagnosis to determine if the treatment path one is on is improving lung function.

How the Lungs are Affected

When air enters our lungs, it travels from the windpipe into two tubes, the bronchi. From there these tubes branch out into smaller tubes, similar to the way tree branches grow. Tiny air sacs wait to receive this air at the end of each branch (the alveoli) to oxygenate the blood and body.

The alveoli are very vascular, with thin walls full of blood vessels. When the air reaches these blood vessels it is passed into the blood stream while carbon dioxide is being exhaled. COPD causes the elasticity of these blood vessels to be over-expanded resulting in air remaining trapped in these capillaries. This is where the obstruction comes in when the air is unable to be fully released from the lungs.

The 4 Stages of COPD

  • Mild

    Symptoms: shortness of breath and mild cough

  • Management: stop smoking, use of a bronchodilator medication to relax the airway muscles and updating your yearly vaccination records

  • Moderate

    Symptoms: shortness of breath, productive cough, wheezing, fatigue and trouble sleeping

  • Management: bronchodilator medication, breathing exercises, pulmonary rehabilitation to improve quality of life

  • Severe

    Symptoms: Intensification of previous symptoms, with thicker mucus and more difficulty breathing, feeling of confusion or forgetfulness, swelling of the ankles/ feet/ legs, tightness in the chest with more frequent chest infections

  • Management: managing flareups with oral steroids, inhaled corticosteroids, expectorants to clear the mucus, or oxygen therapy

  • Very Severe

    Symptoms: extreme exacerbation of all the above symptoms with a cracking sound when you breathe in, barrel chest, delirium, irregular or fast heartbeat, weight lost, pulmonary hypertension.

  • Management: continuous oxygen therapy, lung surgery or lung transplant

Prevention of COPD is Key

Medical News Today lists 11 home remedies for COPD:

  1. Quit smoking
  2. Improve air quality in the home
  3. Practice breathing exercises
  4. Manage stress levels
  5. Maintain a healthy weight
  6. Develop muscle strength
  7. Practice water-based exercises
  8. Vitamin D for inflammation
  9. Intake of co-enzyme Q10 and creatine
  10. Inhaling eucalyptus oil
  11. Breathing Myrtol standardized


With smoking being the number one cause of COPD, cessation is best way for prevention and management. While there is no cure for this disease, there are ways to take aim at improving quality of life. At American Online Benefits Group, we offer products that can help with the management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Contact our Agent or Member Services today for more information at 214-389-9072.

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