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Breath of life: Today is World COPD Day

Are you using good inhaler technique? Learn more about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, the fourth leading cause of death in Canada, at today’s forum

By Karen Zalan

Today, Nov. 15, is World COPD Day. It is important because COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada. 

COPD, which stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, an umbrella term for chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

What causes this serious illness? First and foremost, it is smoking. Then, there is air pollution; tiny particles entering the airways travelling deep into the lungs. There are also genetic factors.

Symptoms include: shortness of breath, cough, mucus production, a decrease in exercise tolerance, wheezing, and chest tightness. Symptoms generally progress in severity over time. There is no particular timeline. Everyone is different. COPD profoundly affects quality of life.

There are several steps to a diagnosis. Physical examination and a careful history come first. Blood work is ordered. Spirometry testing assesses lung mechanics. Further pulmonary function may be required. Imaging may follow.

Treatment involves smoking cessation, medication and pulmonary rehabilitation. No one says that stopping smoking is easy. There are medications, which help to decrease cravings. There are programs designed to support those who want to quit. Generally, there are two different classes of medications. Some work to keep the airways open.  Others help to decrease swelling in the linings of the airways.

Some medications are taken by mouth. Most are inhaled into the lungs. Correct technique is critical to ensuring proper medication delivery. Pulmonary rehabilitation offers an environment to guide those with COPD to safely exercise for increased endurance and strength. There is an emphasis on improvement of quality of life.

The Lung Disease Support Group (LDSG) of Sudbury is holding a public forum about COPD this afternoon at the Lexington on Brady Street. Doors open at 3 p.m. Speakers begin at 4 p.m. Bring your inhalers so the professionals present may observe and assess your inhaler technique. The evening ends at 7:30 p.m. Please call 705-524-9864 to register. There is no fee. A light supper will be offered.

Karen Zalan is the education director at Lung Disease Support Group Inc. and the retired clinical leader of the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Clinic/Asthma Clinic in Sudbury.