We all know that smoking is bad for the lungs. It can cause lung cancer. However, did you know that it can also be a major cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)? It is a non–infectious disease that affects the lungs and can chronically affect health. It has reached epidemic proportions in India. Around 14.84 million Indians are estimated to suffer from COPD and this might be an understatement.
COPD affects the respiratory system, so the patients suffer from:
- Shortness of breath
- Continuous cough and sputum production
- Feeling of tightness in the chest
- Cor pulmonale or pressure on the lung arteries in case of advanced COPD. This causes legs to swell and neck veins to prominently bulge.
- COPD can be one of many associated conditions that share risk factors like diabetes, hypertension, anxiety, lung cancer, depression
The symptoms all grow worse with time, thus characterizing the chronic nature of COPD.
Use of tobacco by smoking, bidi, air pollution, exposure to dust, spores, silica dust, dust from mining sites etc. can all be a cause. Smoking is especially harmful, in any form. Passive smokers are also at risk.
In India, around 90 percent of people in rural houses and 32 percent in urban houses use biomass like wood or cow dung cakes as fuel for stoves. This is a major reason for air pollution and consequently, COPD. Also, the coils we burn to keep mosquitoes away, are a death trap for COPD-patients and are equal to smoking a hundred cigarettes.
Genetics does play a role in this disease and people whose family have a history of COPD are more likely to get it.
Diagnosis and treatment
Spirometry is normally done as it measures how much of obstruction there is to breathing (this causes the shortness of breath). A chest X-ray or a complete blood count can also be done, the latter can shed light on the amount on oxygen in the blood and so the efficiency of the lungs.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for COPD. Exercise, abstaining from smoking and taking precautions against dust and pollution, like wearing masks, can help keep it under control.