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Managing Lung Disease

By Cheryl Ellis, RPFT, CRT, Staff Writer

(Page 1 of 2)

The lungs oversee the body’s oxygen needs by taking in air deep into their corridors (called bronchi), allowing for oxygen and carbon dioxide to filter in and out of the blood. The dance of oxygen exchange becomes more complicated with inhaled pollutants of different kinds, such as tobacco smoke, pollution and congestion from infections.

Our lungs also help the body’s metabolic process, releasing more carbon dioxide in situations where the kidneys need help keeping the body’s acid and alkaline quantities balanced. They can release more or less carbon dioxide if needed in a given situation.

Each body system works with the other to keep the body in a state of health. Illness can be acute (short term) or chronic (recurrent). Each disease has its own definition of acute or chronic. Lung disease can be caused by restrictive conditions such as spinal curvature, or obstructive conditions like emphysema. Lung disease is often a mixture of more than one condition, and both restrictive and obstructive conditions can occur at the same time.

UNDERSTANDING COPD

The National Institute of Health estimates that 12 million people have been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).The term COPD is a general designation for a group of lung diseases that includes asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and bronchiectasis.

COPD causes shortness of breath, and problems with mucus clearing and oxygen exchange from the lungs to the blood vessels. Each of the diseases that fall under the COPD classification creates different changes in the lung tissue, but essentially similar symptoms and challenges. Air flow is not only obstructed from going deep into the lungs. The ability to exhale properly hampers the next breath coming in.

The airways can collapse because the smaller airways “flop” closed when exhaling. The closed airway may need medication to open them up, or an altered breathing pattern that lets the air flow out more smoothly. Ideally, a combination of the two provides consistent help. The trapping of air prevents easy exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and the “dance” that occurs when a new breath carries in fresh air causes “old” air to block the entry of “new” air. It’s similar to people needing to exit an elevator before others can get in.

DIAGNOSIS IS A BEGINNING

Individuals diagnosed in early stages of COPD may have an easier time adapting to lifestyle changes to assist with management of the disease. Eliminating smoking is a first course of action; and the earlier one starts, the simpler it may be.

Therapies like pulmonary rehabilitation are designed to adapt to the current state of health, and provide great benefits at any stage of diagnosis. Pulmonary rehabilitation by competent professionals includes breathing exercises, education on energy conservation and supervised exercise to improve stamina.

In all cases, COPD increases the amount of work it takes to breathe. Conserving energy, especially in later stages, improves breathing and the body’s ability to transfer oxygen. By supplying the body’s oxygen needs adequately, everything from digestion to sleep is positively affected.

 

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