3 respiratory disorders and how to manage them

November 3, 2015

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and asthma can't be cured, only controlled. Here are some tips for managing these serious illnesses.

3 respiratory disorders and how to manage them


  • COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
  • Smokers are at higher risk of developing this disease.
  • Symptoms include coughing, breathlessness, wheezing, and lowered activity levels. Because you can't get air to your lungs, you get tired more easily.
  • No matter what you do, you can't reverse your illness.
  • COPD treatment includes smoking cessation, gentle physical activity and the regular use of prescribed medications to treat and prevent flare-ups.
  • Your doctor might prescribe pulmonary rehabilitation.
  • Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may need supplemental oxygen.
  • Your doctor may want to treat you for weight loss and muscle weakness.

2. Emphysema

  • If you develop emphysema, you may feel like you can't pull a full breath into your lungs. You may also feel like you can't exhale fully.
  • Smokers are at higher risk of developing this condition. Cigarette smoke causes damage to the tiny air sacs in your lungs (alveoli).
  • The alveoli are unable to expand fully - leading to shortness of breath. Eventually, mucous builds up inside your lungs, leading to possible infection.
  • The biggest symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath, but you may also wheeze and cough. Because you get tired more easily, you may not be as active.
  • Other symptoms include swelling of your legs, feet and ankles, along with unwanted weight loss.
  • You may also feel anxious, probably because of your breathing difficulty.
  • Your doctor may prescribe inhaled medications, such as bronchodilators, to relax the airways of your lungs. You may use these medications in nebulizer or inhaler form.
  • You may also use inhaled corticosteroids to reduce airway inflammation.
  • Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may use oxygen and undergo pulmonary rehab.

3. Asthma

  • Asthma is a little different from COPD and emphysema. When an irritant gets into your lungs, the breathing tubes become more narrow, which makes breathing in and out harder.
  • If you suffer from allergies, you may be more likely to develop asthma.
  • As with COPD and emphysema, there's no cure for asthma. Instead, your doctor will probably prescribe specific medications to control your symptoms.
  • Asthma may sound like a mild disease, but it can become deadly if a flare-up isn't treated right away.
  • Your doctor will start with short-acting "rescue" inhalers that stop shortness of breath in the middle of an attack.
  • If you suffer from frequent airway inflammation, your doctor may prescribe inhaled or oral corticosteroids to reduce airway swelling and prevent attacks.
  • You should exercise when you are able. This can help strengthen your respiratory system.

You've been having trouble with your breathing for some time. At first, you thought it was just nerves or a cold, but your symptoms aren't going away. You may in fact have COPD, emphysema, or asthma. You need to get a diagnosis and appropriate treatment - something that will only happen after medical intervention, so call your doctor and explain your symptoms.

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