The end of winter is the perfect time to get your lungs checked. Most of us have (hopefully) gotten over the worst of our colds and are aware if there’s something lingering that just isn’t right. That might be shortness of breath, a repetitive cough with phlegm or mucus on most days or anything related to a history of smoking or inhaling occupational or environmental pollutants such as smoke, fumes or dust.
COPD – the silent killer worldwide.
Many people mistake these symptoms as a sign of ageing or being a little overweight or unfit, but the uncomfortable truth is they may be signs you are one of the estimated 700,000 Australians with an undiagnosed or as yet invisible (no symptoms) form of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
COPD is an umbrella term for a number of lung diseases, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma, which aren’t fully reversible and currently have no cure. Despite most of us never having heard of COPD, it currently affects approximately 1.45 million Australians and is actually one of the leading causes of death worldwide, after heart disease, cancer and stroke.
COPD comes with a long list of burdensome symptoms which affect people’s everyday life and can lead to a gradual decline in their abilities to perform simple tasks like showering or dressing and ultimately depression or anxiety.
If this is painting a very bleak picture then that’s because the seriousness of COPD diseases are all too easy to ignore or to miss. Unfortunately COPD doesn’t get the wide coverage or understanding of some other “high-profile” diseases, despite over 1.45 million Australians currently living with it in some form. The most dangerous part of this is that without awareness and constant monitoring by a GP, over half of these people aren’t taking the necessary steps to slow the progression of their disease and prevent the escalations that can make life difficult.
How do we diagnose COPD?
Luckily, diagnosing COPD is a simple matter of having a spirometry test performed by your local GP. This is such an important step as COPD develops gradually and it can take many years before symptoms are visible. Given the prevalence of the disease I would love to see a day where this simple test becomes as routine as having your blood pressure or teeth checked.
How do we treat COPD?
While there is currently no cure for COPD, it is treatable. There is plenty of evidence to show that early diagnosis combined with disease management programs at the early stages can reduce the burden of COPD, increase the quality of life, slow disease progression, reduce mortality and keep people out of hospital. Ongoing treatment can also avoid ongoing hospitalisations and there are a number of steps you can take in your everyday life to breathe easier and improve quality of life. These include:
In the western world cigarette smoking is the single largest cause of COPD. Quitting smoking is the most important step in slowing the rate of disease and improving symptoms and will reduce passive smoking opportunities for your loved ones.
This is the process of rehabilitating your lungs. It’s cost effective, reduces hospitalisations, breathlessness, fatigue, anxiety and depression while increasing your capacity for exercise, emotional function and sense of control over your condition.
These give your lungs a boost, reduce the effects of symptoms and hospital admissions and improve your quality of life and activity.
Vaccinations against influenza and pneumococcal infections can help protect your lungs.
As COPD worsens you can feel less able to carry on with your normal activities, which leaves you feeling increasingly isolated. Support groups/services can help meet your emotional and social needs, helping you realise you are not alone. There is a Midwest Lung and Respiratory Support Group in Geraldton called Yarraly which is patient led. Contact 360 Leanne at 360 Health + Community for more information.
For people with advanced lung disease this can help absorb sufficient oxygen to support vital organs.
Come for a free lung screening.
Leanne Ross is a local Respiratory Nurse Specialist working at 360 Health + Community. She has over 12 years’ experience in the field of respiratory health and has commenced a lung screening project in Geraldton to help detect lung disease as a result of smoking or environmental exposures. If you are aged 35hrs+, have a substantial smoking history or environmental exposures and don’t have a diagnosis of COPD please get in touch with Leanne for a free lung screen on 9960 6800. Leanne will also be visiting workplaces for screening on request.