Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an umbrella term that covers a group of lung diseases; most notably, it includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD affects roughly 16 million Americans. Additionally, it is estimated that millions more people have some form of COPD that is untreated. There is no cure for COPD, however, there are treatments available. That is why it is important to understand symptoms, risk factors, and the steps to take for prevention and treatment. November is COPD Awareness Month, and it is a time to spread knowledge about this serious disease.
What are the Symptoms of COPD?
The challenge for COPD patients is that symptoms typically do not appear until after significant lung damage has already taken place. Symptoms tend to worsen over time, especially with continued exposure to smoke or other aggravating agents.
Common signs and symptoms of COPD include:
- Lack of energy.
- Chest tightness.
- Shortness of breath, especially during physical activities.
- A chronic cough that produces mucus. Sputum produced can range from clear to yellow or green.
- Frequent respiratory infections.
- Weight loss.
- Swelling in the ankles, feet, and legs.
While many people think of COPD as a respiratory issue, it can have a negative impact on overall health in many other ways, including:
- Heart problems
- High blood pressure
- Lung cancer
What Causes COPD?
COPD can result from many factors. The most common cause in developed countries is smoking. Tobacco use is the number one cause of respiratory illness in the United States; however, not all smokers develop serious forms of COPD. Smoking does drastically increase the likelihood of developing breathing complications, especially for those with a long history of tobacco use. COPD can also result from genetic and environmental factors.
How can COPD be Prevented?
Knowledge is the key to prevention, which is why COPD Awareness Month is so important. Understanding the risk factors and avoiding exposure to smoke and hazardous environments can go a long way toward maintaining health. Since symptoms do not generally appear until the disease has progressed, early detection is not always an option. To avoid potentially severe issues, the best option is to make necessary lifestyle changes to prevent the initial onset.
How is COPD Treated?
There are multiple treatment options available. Specific treatments will depend on the patient and the advancement of the disease. Common medications include:
- Bronchodilators: These are designed to relax inflamed muscles around the airways, reducing shortness of breath and making it easier to breathe.
- Steroid Inhalers: Inhaled steroids reduce airway inflammation and may prevent the exacerbation of symptoms.
- Combination Inhalers: These inhalers include one or more bronchodilators along with steroids.
- Oral Steroids: For moderate to severe cases, a physician my prescribe a course of oral steroids to prevent symptoms from getting worse.
- Oxygen Therapy: Insufficient oxygen in the blood can make COPD symptoms worse. A variety of medical devices are available to help increase oxygen levels when COPD sufferers need it. For some, additional oxygen is used only during physical activity or during sleep, while others may need it constantly.
- Pulmonary Rehabilitation Programs: Recovering from the effects of COPD symptoms can be challenging. Rehabilitation programs combine education, exercise, and nutritional counseling.
- Lung Volume Reduction Surgery: In this procedure, the surgeon removes damaged lung tissue to allow more space for the healthy part of the lung to function better.
- Lung Transplant: If the victim has severe COPD, the patient may receive a full lung transplant. This is a serious operation and carries certain risks. This is not a common procedure, but when it is medically necessary, it can greatly improve respiratory functions for a COPD patient.
- Quitting Smoking: Smoking will exacerbate symptoms more than anything else.
- Avoiding Hazardous Environments: Whether it is a change of job or living space, avoiding pollutants is important to maintaining health, especially with COPD.
COPD treatment costs can vary greatly, depending on the severity of the disease and the specific treatment plan. It is worth noting that managing symptoms and preventing them from getting worse can become fairly expensive. Since COPD cannot be cured, treatment is often lifelong. Watching out for risk factors is extremely important.
Can an Unsafe Work Environment Cause COPD?
Environmental factors can affect the respiratory system. Whether it is at home or at work, spending hours around smoke or other hazards can be very detrimental to lung function over time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), long-term exposure to dusts, chemicals, and vapors in the workplace can irritate and inflame the lungs, leading to respiratory problems. Even brief exposure to certain materials can cause serious health problems. Exposure over the course of a traditional 40-hour work week can add up fast.
If a work environment contributes to COPD, an employee may have legal resources available, including Workers’ Compensation benefits. For this reason, a sick employee should consult with a lawyer as soon as possible.
Vineland Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at DiTomaso Law Advocate for Workers with Debilitating COPD
If you have developed COPD as a result of your employment, you may be eligible for compensation. Our Vineland Workers’ Compensation lawyers at DiTomaso Law work with employees who have occupational illnesses, including COPD. For a free consultation, contact us online or call us at 856-414-0010. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Mt. Holly, Camden County, and Vineland.