Try to imagine what it might feel like to take every breath through a straw. For many people with lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, they don't have to imagine because that's what breathing can feel like on many days, especially days when air pollution levels are high. With COPD it often becomes more and more difficult for people to breathe over time because the air sacs that carry air from the nose and mouth to the lungs become less elastic.
November is COPD Awareness Month and Wednesday, Nov. 19, is also World COPD Day. If there's one thing that the American Lung Association of the Northeast wants the public to know as we shine the spotlight on this disease this month is that COPD can be treated.
When diagnosed early and properly managed, both COPD's progression and its severity can be minimized. That's why it is so important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of this disease so that if you notice symptoms in yourself or a loved one, you know to make an appointment to see your doctor right away.
The most common symptoms of COPD include constant coughing, shortness of breath while performing everyday activities, excess sputum production, feeling unable to breathe or take a deep breath, and wheezing. COPD most often occurs in people age 40 and over who have a history of smoking, have had long-term exposure to lung irritants or have a rare genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency.
COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 120,000 American lives each year. More than 12 million people have been diagnosed, but another 12 million people are likely to have COPD and don't know it.
Particularly alarming is the rise of COPD in Women. Last year, the American Lung Association reissued its report Taking Her Breath Away, which found that the number of deaths among women from COPD has increased four-fold over the past three decades. Since 2000, more women than men in this country have died of this disease.
As we observe COPD Awareness Month, please spread the word to your loved ones that if they have trouble breathing they should see their doctor. Never assume that trouble breathing is a normal part of aging; it is not. Get yourself checked out. COPD is diagnosed using a simple test called spirometry. Spirometry is a noninvasive test that checks the amount of air you can blow out of your lungs and how fast you can blow it out. The test can help your doctor determine if you have COPD and, if so, how severe it is.
If you already have COPD, the American Lung Association can connect you with support and resources to help. We host Better Breathers Clubs across the Northeast which offer the opportunity to learn ways to better cope with COPD while getting the support of others who share in your struggles. These support groups give you the tools you need to live the best quality of life you can. Better Breathers Clubs meet regularly and feature educational presentations on a wide range of relevant topics.
For those who need help quitting smoking, the American Lung Association is here to help. Whether it's your first time trying to quit or your tenth we can help you succeed once and for all. Call our free LungHelpLine and Tobacco QuitLine at 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) to speak with a certified tobacco treatment specialist. You can also sign up for our Freedom From Smoking Online course at ffsonline.org. This course is an adaption of our group clinic that has helped thousands of smokers quit for good.
Please also join our movement to stand up against lung cancer and stand together for lung health by joining LUNG FORCE this month. As we observe COPD Awareness Month this November, we are also observing Lung Cancer Awareness Month and are seeking to draw attention to the number one cancer killer of both men and women. We want the public to know that anyone can get lung cancer. Learn more about lung cancer and how you can help fight it at LungForce.org.