While there are many health conditions that can negatively affect one’s breathing, few can be more pernicious than chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. This lung disease is relatively common, with millions of new cases diagnosed each year.
In reality, COPD is not a single condition. The term is used to describe several different lung diseases that all have the same result: increased breathlessness and trouble breathing. Examples of COPD include chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and many COPD patients actually experience a mix of several of these conditions.
When left unchecked, COPD can have a significant impact on your daily routine and overall quality of life. For many, it could even lead to a shorter lifespan. In fact, according to the American Lung Association, COPD is the third-leading cause of death in the United States.
If you have been diagnosed with COPD, using oxygen therapy is an absolute must. Here is a closer look at how COPD can affect your well-being, as well as how oxygen therapy can help you manage this condition.
Understanding Different Types of COPD
There are three primary conditions associated with COPD. Emphysema is the result of damage to the lung’s alveoli, or air sacs. This causes the alveoli to become less effective at absorbing oxygen into the bloodstream, while also stretching out the lungs and making it easier for air to get trapped. The trapped air inside the lungs actually makes it harder to exhale, resulting in shortness of breath.
Refractory or non-reversible asthma is a variant of asthma that cannot be treated by usual medications. Medications that would normally be effective at reversing the swelling and tightening that occurs during an asthma attack prove ineffective for those who suffer from this condition.
Finally, there is chronic bronchitis, which is the result of swollen and irritated bronchial tubes. In chronic bronchitis, the bronchial tubes lose their hair-like fibers (called cilia) that help move mucus up and out of the tubes. This causes the person to cough more, which in turn causes the body to produce more mucus. This makes the bronchial tubes even more swollen and will eventually cause mucus to build up inside the lungs.
Regardless of which variant of COPD you are dealing with, most incidences of the disease are the result of inhaling pollutants. Unsurprisingly, this makes smoking a leading contributor to COPD. However, other types of exposure to airborne pollutants, such as living in an area with high pollution levels or being exposed to noxious fumes in your workplace, can also lead to COPD.
According to the COPD Foundation, even household exposure to mold, asbestos, and spray cleaners can contribute to the condition. Some people are also genetically predisposed to developing COPD if they have a deficiency of the blood protein alpha-1-antitrypsin.
What are the Consequences of Untreated COPD?
In its early stages, COPD may not seem particularly dangerous, but there are several warning signs that can alert you that there is a problem. Individuals with COPD will experience a daily cough that lasts for several consecutive months and will be far more prone to respiratory infections than others.
Because people with COPD often have trouble catching their breath, they may become fatigued more easily, or find that they regularly experience shortness of breath that becomes more severe even when participating in mild activities. This can often lead to feeling a need to take deep, wheezing breaths. Unsurprisingly, this makes it harder to participate in everyday activities — even something as basic as going on a walk.
The Mayo Clinic notes that other early symptoms may include feelings of tightness in the chest, swelling in the ankles and feet, and a blue tinge in the lips or fingernails. If you have noticed any of these symptoms, it is important that you get tested right away so you can start receiving the necessary treatment.
If you fail to treat COPD, you greatly increase your risk of more serious health complications. While the connections aren’t entirely clear, COPD has been linked with high blood pressure, an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, osteoporosis, and arthritis. Unhealthy weight loss may also occur in later stages of the disease.
Individuals with COPD are also more likely to develop lung cancer (possibly linked to the pollutants that caused COPD in the first place), as well as sleep apnea. The high frequency of respiratory infections also increases an individual’s risk for pneumonia.
By interfering with your daily routine and increasing your risk for new health complications, COPD can have a dramatic impact on your physical and emotional well-being. If a test with your doctor confirms a diagnosis of COPD, following the recommended treatment plan should become a top priority.
Key Benefits of Oxygen Therapy
COPD does not have a cure. Like sleep apnea, it is a condition that requires continual management to avoid more serious long-term consequences. Because of this, many doctors will prescribe oxygen therapy to those who have been diagnosed with COPD.
Oxygen therapy is typically administered by an oxygen concentrator, which pulls in the surrounding air and compresses and purifies it to deliver oxygen-rich air via special breathing tubes. Most users start with a nasal cannula, which fits two small tubes into the nostrils. However, face masks area also available for those who don’t like using the tubes or who need a higher flow of oxygen.
Oxygen concentrators have historically had a bit of a stigma attached to them, with many picturing them as large, bulky devices that make it difficult to do much other than sit in a chair at home. This is hardly the case today, especially with portable oxygen concentrators from brands like Philips Respironics and Inogen. These portable units weigh under five pounds and operate on battery power, allowing you to get the therapy you need while still participating in your normal activities.
Despite these improvements, many fail to take advantage of oxygen concentrators because they feel self-conscious about the way they look while using the equipment, or they think it may be difficult to use. By focusing on the benefits of this important treatment, you will be better motivated to follow your therapy guidelines so you can achieve improved health outcomes.
As Deborah Leader, RN writes for VeryWell Health, individuals with severe resting hypoxemia will actually enjoy a longer life if they adhere to their oxygen therapy. The benefits are greatest for those who use their oxygen concentrator continuously, rather than just sporadically. While a similar connection has not been found for those who suffer from moderate or mild COPD, the treatment has been linked with several other important health benefits.
Complying with oxygen therapy will help you reduce or prevent many of the previously mentioned complications that result from untreated COPD, including hypertension, arrhythmias, and heart failure.
Oxygen therapy also directly fights against the common symptoms associated with COPD — most notably, the shortness of breath that can interrupt everyday activities. By ensuring the body has enough oxygen, you won’t feel dizzy or faint during the day. You will also be more mentally alert and have more energy for exercise. Combating the effects of COPD can even improve your sex life.
Continuous oxygen therapy will also improve the quality of your sleep. By reducing interruptions to sleep caused by a lack of oxygen, you will subsequently reduce your risk of the complications associated with sleep apnea, ensuring that you will have enough energy to get through the day.
By fighting breathlessness, you won’t have to worry about a sudden onset of symptoms interfering with social activities or family time. You can have confidence that you will have the oxygen you need, when you need it.
Precautions For Using an Oxygen Concentrator
Using an oxygen concentrator can prove highly effective in helping you control COPD. However, there are a few precautions you should take when using your equipment.
As Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. writes for ThoughtCo., “Oxygen does not burn, but it is an oxidizer, which means it supports the process of combustion. So if you already have a fuel and a fire, adding oxygen will feed the flames. The reaction can be dangerous and violent, which is why it's never a good idea to store or use oxygen around any sort of flame.”
The excess oxygen produced by your therapy equipment could fuel a larger than expected flame when an ignition source is present, increasing the risk of burns or a fire. Use caution around potential sources of fire when using an oxygen concentrator. Avoid cigarettes. Aside from their potential flammability, their high production of harmful airborne pollutants counteracts the benefits you get from oxygen therapy.
Some individuals also experience skin irritation where the breathing equipment comes into contact with their face. A dry nose is more likely, which can increase the chances for an occasional nosebleed. If these mild side effects become an issue, you may benefit from using a humidifier to increase humidity levels in the room.
For best results, discuss these side effects with your doctor. They will help you determine if you need to switch to a different type of equipment or adjust your therapy settings and frequency.
Additional Methods For Managing COPD
While using an oxygen concentrator can make a big difference in managing COPD, it isn’t the only way to control your symptoms. If smoking has contributed to your condition, quitting now is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Not only will this relieve COPD symptoms, but it could also help you avoid lung cancer.
Similarly, if you work in an area with frequent exposure to dust and other airborne irritants, be sure to use protective breathing equipment. Keeping these contaminants out of your lungs is essential for avoiding respiratory problems.
If you have been diagnosed with COPD, household maintenance can also ease your symptoms. Keeping humidity levels below 40 percent, wearing a respirator mask when cleaning or dusting, and replacing HVAC filters each month will help reduce your exposure to airborne pollutants.
Walking is an important form of exercise for those who have been diagnosed with COPD. Start by walking a short distance each day, and gradually increase how far you walk as your strength and stamina improve. This will help strengthen the lungs and keep your COPD from worsening, while also improving your overall cardiovascular health.
Because COPD can cause unhealthy weight loss, you may also need to consult with your doctor regarding special dietary plans.
Though none of these actions will “cure” you of COPD, they will go a long way in helping you manage your condition. By making an effort to reduce your exposure to airborne contaminants and engaging in healthy activities, you will increase the effectiveness of oxygen therapy for improved long-term health outcomes.
Getting used to relying on an oxygen concentrator or CPAP machine may take some time, but in the end, the results are well worth it. By ensuring that your lungs are getting enough air, you will be better able to participate in the activities you love with the people you love. With portable oxygen concentrators being easier to use than ever before, you can get the care you need without disrupting your normal routine.
As life-changing as oxygen therapy can be, however, there is no denying that the equipment that is required for effective treatment can be quite expensive — particularly if your insurance coverage does not fully cover the cost.
This is where Help Medical Supplies comes in. We offer great discounts on a wide range of oxygen concentrators and other medical products, allowing you to save hundreds of dollars on your purchase.
Better still, we offer free shipping on all orders over $89, and we even have available financing through CareCredit for purchases over $200. This allows you to break up your purchase into more affordable monthly payments, making it easier to manage your budget.
You shouldn’t let COPD keep you from enjoying life. Purchase an oxygen concentrator today so you can continue doing the things you love.