Clearing the Air on COPD
Keeping Brooklyn Healthy

Clearing the Air on COPD

COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. It includes two major conditions: emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

This disease can cause coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and other symptoms.

Cigarettes contain many hazardous substances that damage the lung when inhaled, including tar nicotine, carbon monoxide, and cyanide.Cigarettes contain many hazardous substances that damage the lung when inhaled, including tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide, and cyanide.Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Long-term exposure to air pollution, chemical fumes or dust also may contribute to COPD. Male smokers are 12 times more likely to die from COPD than men who have never smoked. It is a major cause of disability and death in the United States.

To understand COPD, it helps to understand how your lungs work. The air you breathe goes down your windpipe into tubes in your lungs called airways. In your lungs, your airways branch into thousands of smaller tubes called bronchioles. These tubes end in clusters of tiny air sacs called alveoli.

Small blood vessels called capillaries run through the walls of your air sacs. When air reaches your air sacs, its oxygen passes through the air sac walls into the blood in the capillaries. At the same time, carbon dioxide moves from the capillaries into the air sacs.

The airways and air sacs are elastic. When you breathe in, each air sac fills up with air like a small balloon. When you breathe out, the air sacs deflate.

With COPD, less air flows in and out of the airways for a number of reasons. Sometimes the airways and air sacs lose their elastic quality. Sometimes the walls between air sacs are destroyed. Sometimes airway walls become thick and inflamed. And sometimes airways become clogged with mucus.

The symptoms of COPD often worsen over time and can limit your ability to do routine activities. Severe COPD may prevent you from doing even basic activities like walking, cooking or taking care of yourself.

There’s no cure yet, and doctors don't know how to reverse the damage. But lifestyle changes and medicines like bronchodilators and beta2-agonists can help you feel better, stay more active and slow the progress of the disease.

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