Respiratory diseases - COPD
What is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease characterized by chronic obstruction of lung airflow that interferes with normal breathing and is not fully reversible.
COPD is diagnosed by a simple test called spirometry, which measures how deeply a person can breathe and how fast air can move into and out of the lungs. Because COPD develops slowly, it is most frequently diagnosed in people aged 40 years or older.
COPD is preventable, but not curable. Treatment can help slow disease progression, but COPD generally worsens over time.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptoms of COPD are breathlessness, or a 'need for air', excessive sputum production, and a chronic cough. Daily activities such as walking up a short flight of stairs may become very difficult as the disease worsens.
Causes of COPD
Tobacco smoke (including second-hand or passive exposure)
Indoor air pollution (such as biomass fuel used for cooking and heating)
Outdoor air pollution
Occupational dusts and chemicals (vapours, irritants, and fumes)
Frequent lower respiratory infections during childhood
The most important measure for preventing COPD and for stopping disease progression is avoiding tobacco smoke (including passive exposure). Although COPD cannot be cured, appropriate management can control symptoms, slow disease progression and enable people to enjoy good quality of life.
Respiratory diseases - Asthma
Asthma is one of the most common lung problems in children, with about one in 10 children suffering at some point during childhood. It is less prevalent in adults, although it can develop in later life. The number of people suffering with asthma has increased in recent years. Many believe increasing levels of air pollution is partially to blame.
What is asthma?
Asthma involves the narrowing of the bronchial tubes (bronchi), which lead from the windpipe into the lungs. The bronchi carry the air in and the carbon dioxide breathed out. In people with asthma, the airway is always sensitive and slightly swollen. In an asthma attack, the airways contract, narrowing the tubes, and therefore the pathway for air to come in and out. The lining of the airways also become more inflamed, and often sticky mucous is produced. This makes it much more difficult to breathe, especially when breathing out, which is why asthma sufferers often inhale in short sharp breaths and exhale in a longer more laboured breath.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms are difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and a tight sensation around the throat. An audible wheeze is often present and sometimes coughing can be the main symptom in children.
What causes an asthma attack?
Asthma attacks can be associated with exercise, cold temperatures, or come on at night. But they can also be caused by an allergy to triggers such as cat fur or dust mites or pollutants such as cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes; or chemical irritants such as some household cleaners.
Most people with asthma can have their condition worsened or even triggered by everyday substances. If you can identify the cause, it may be possible to avoid the trigger such as keeping the house as clear of dust as possible or avoiding cigarette smoke. But the aim of managing asthma with current treatment is to achieve a life not hampered by asthma for as many sufferers as possible.
Asthma and COPD have similar symptoms and are easily confused with each other. However, they are very different diseases:
Usually affects middle-aged or older people Usually affects people at any age, often first seen in childhood
Almost always associated with smoking Can affect smokers and non-smokers
The symptoms are slowly progressive in nature The symptoms vary on a day-to-day basis
Airflow obstruction (decreased airflow while breathing out) is persistent and worsens over time Airflow obstruction is highly variable
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