COPD

Steven L. Saunders, MD, LLC

Internal Medicine located in Milford, CT

For the 16 million American adults with a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) diagnosis, it can be draining to live with a constant cough, persistent wheezing, and incessant breathlessness. Whether you have unexplained breathing difficulties or already have COPD, board-certified internist Steven L. Saunders, MD, MBA, FACP, can help. For expert COPD treatment, call Steven L. Saunders, MD, LLC, in Milford, Connecticut today, or book online.

COPD Q & A

What is COPD?

COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a chronic and progressive inflammatory lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. It occurs when less air flows through your airways, either because the airways and air sacs lose their elasticity, destruction of the walls between the air sacs, or the walls of the airways thicken with inflammation.

The two types of COPD are:  

Emphysema

This lung disease damages air sacs, leaving them weaker and shapeless. Emphysema can also destroy the walls of air sacs, decreasing the amount of gas the lungs can exchange.

Chronic bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis keeps the lining of your airways perpetually irritated and inflamed, causing them to swell and produce lots of thick mucus, all of which makes breathing more difficult.

Although most people with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the severity of each condition varies among individuals.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

While COPD may be mild and asymptomatic early on, symptoms tend to emerge — and become increasingly intense — as the disease advances. Common signs and symptoms of COPD include:

  • Shortness of breath, particularly during activity
  • A persistent cough or a cough that produces mucus
  • Sustained chest tightness
  • Wheezing and an inability to breathe deeply
  • Ongoing fatigue or lack of energy

 

COPD may develop slowly, but because the disease is progressive, symptoms always worsen over time unless treated.

What causes COPD?

Virtually all cases of COPD are the result of long-term exposure to the kind of lung irritants that can damage airways. In the United States, the most common COPD-causing irritant is cigarette smoke, including second-hand smoke.

But even though smoking accounts for as many as 80% of all COPD-related deaths, 25% of Americans with COPD have never smoked cigarettes. In some cases, long-term exposure to harmful chemical fumes or dust in the environment or workplace causes COPD.

Why is it important to treat COPD?

COPD is incurable, irreversible, and, when left untreated, a major cause of disability. Luckily, early treatment at Steven L. Saunders, MD, LLC, and targeted lifestyle changes can help you feel better, stay more active, and slow the progress of the disease.

If you smoke, quitting is the most important step you can take to slow the progress of COPD and find some relief. You should also avoid second-hand smoke and other obvious lung irritants like dust and fumes.

Depending on your symptoms and degree of lung damage, Dr. Saunders may prescribe one or more medications to ease your symptoms and help you breathe easier.   

Bronchodilators, which are usually taken through an inhaler-like device, can help relax the muscles around your airways. If your COPD is more severe, combining a bronchodilator with an inhaled steroid can help reduce airway inflammation.

Patients with severe COPD and low blood oxygen levels can usually benefit from oxygen therapy, a treatment that delivers pure oxygen through nasal prongs or a face mask.

If lifestyle changes, medicines, and oxygen therapy don’t help, lung surgery — including transplant surgery — may be a last-resort option.

To learn more about all available COPD treatment solutions, call Steven L. Saunders, MD, LLC, or book an appointment online today.