For years I’ve been going on long morning walks with my super smart and stylish friend Susan. But lately whenever we climb a hill, her breath becomes labored and we need to slow down; sometimes we stop in our tracks until she regains her energy. “This is what I get for smoking two packs a day,” she laments.
Susan quit cigarettes more than 30 years ago. But because of her former habit, at 67 she is now dealing with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an escalating lung illness that over time makes it harder and harder to breathe.
WHAT EXACTLY IS COPD?
COPD is a blanket term for respiratory diseases characterized by an inability to breathe out fully. COPD takes two main forms:
—Emphysema, a condition in which the air sacs of your lungs are damaged and eventually destroyed, causing breathlessness.
—Chronic bronchitis, in which your bronchia tubes become inflamed and produce lots of mucus, leading to coughing and difficulty breathing.
WHAT DOES COPD LOOK LIKE?
Symptoms often don’t appear until the disease progresses, but they can include:
—Lack of energy and/or shortness of breath, especially during physical exercise
—Wheezing, chronic cough and chest tightness
—Frequent respiratory infections
—Blue lips or fingernails
—Coughing up a lot of mucus from the lungs, especially upon waking
—Swelling in your feet, ankles or legs
HOW CAN I PROTECT MY LUNGS?
In addition to not smoking, avoiding air pollutants and getting more exercise, the American Lung Assoc urges you to:
—Get vaccinated every year against the flu and talk to your health provider to find out if the pneumonia vaccine is right for you.
—Brush your teeth at least twice daily and see your dentist every six months. Good oral hygiene can protect you from the germs in your mouth that can lead to infections.
—Choose watercress, not lettuce. Watercress releases a compound called phenethyl isothiocyanate, which helps block the progression of lung cancer and helps to ease respiratory inflammation.
—Sleep slightly upright or on your left side. These positions can help prevent acid reflux, which can exacerbate COPD symptoms.
—Go Cold turkey on hot dogs. Processed meats such as cold cuts, bacon and hot dogs can worsen COPD symptoms and increase risk of COPD-related hospital readmissions.
—Take Vitamin D. A 2018 study suggests vitamin D may increase our lungs’ muscle strength while lowering inflammatory response to respiratory pathogens.