Monday, February 03, 2014


Learn to breathe a little easier

We take the simple things in life for granted — like taking a deep breath. Millions of people live with lung disease and would give anything to be able to take a deep breath, or blow out the candles on a birthday cake.   

The American Lung Association reports that the number of adults with chronic lung disease including asthma, COPD, and lung cancer in the United States alone is 26 million. COPD, short for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a lung disease that makes it difficult for people to breathe and can eventually lead to death.  COPD, commonly known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis is the third leading cause of death in the United States. The primary cause of COPD is smoking, but it can also be caused by other factors. The good news is that COPD is preventable and treatable.

Like most diseases, the earlier COPD is diagnosed the better the chances one has of living a full, high-quality life. People at greatest risk of having COPD are current and former smokers. Some symptoms of COPD include:

•  A persistent cough, known as a “smoker’s cough”
•  Shortness of breath while doing everyday activities
•  Producing a lot of phlegm or mucus
•  Wheezing
•  Feeling like you cannot breathe or take a deep breath

Individuals who are former smokers or experience any of the above symptoms should talk with their physicians about having a test called spirometry. Spirometry, the measuring of breath, is the most common pulmonary function test and uses a spirometer to measure the amount of air going in and out of the lungs.  This test is usually performed in the physician’s office and can diagnose the disease and severity so early treatment can begin.

A diagnosis of COPD does not mean that you cannot exercise. Actually, it is important to stay active. Discuss with your physician joining a pulmonary rehabilitation program. Pulmonary rehab can help you rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath. Most of us do not like taking medications but it is extremely important to take any medications ordered by your physician exactly as instructed. 

If you are having problems, talk with your physician about possible solutions. Most importantly, if you are a smoker, quit! Stopping smoking has more of an impact on the disease than any other treatment. If you have a COPD diagnosis, educate yourself. The American Lung Association has an abundance of information and resources to help you better understand the function of your lungs and COPD.

Lastly, get support. Managing COPD is a team effort. Find a local support group like the Better Breather’s Club, which follows the American Lung Association guidelines and welcomes you and your family.  These groups often provide education and skills to adults with all forms of chronic lung disease. 

In addition to finding comfort in talking with others who have similar ailments, a support group may also offer a schedule of educational topics such as coping skills, psychosocial issues, medications and oxygen therapy. Call 860-889-8331, ext. 2661 for more information. Together, all of these efforts can help everyone breathe a little easier!

Lisa Cook is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cook or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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