Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of progressive respiratory conditions that cause breathing difficulties.
Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent worsening of symptoms and exacerbations. Unfortunately, COPD is often confused with other conditions or is believed to be exclusive to certain sectors of the population, which is why it often goes unnoticed until it is too late. Here we review the main myths around it to better understand this disease.
Myth 1: COPD is a rare condition
That’s not true. Currently, COPD is positioned as the third cause of death in the world. In 2019 alone, it was responsible for 3.23 million deaths.
Myth 2: COPD is the same as asthma
It is common for the two conditions to be confused since they share certain symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, and some people even suffer from both diseases.
However, they are different lung diseases. In asthma, the airways become inflamed, narrowed and produce larger amounts of mucous than normal, making it difficult to breathe. It usually begins during childhood and is associated with allergies and inflammatory problems.
In contrast, in COPD the bronchioles are damaged and gas exchange is restricted. Several processes cause narrowing of the airways, including destruction of parts of the lungs, obstruction of the airways by secretions, and inflammation of the airway epithelium.
- Herbs to relieve respiratory problems
The terms “emphysema” and “chronic bronchitis” are often used to refer to COPD. Emphysema refers to the destruction of the lung’s alveoli, while chronic bronchitis is a chronic cough with sputum due to inflammation of the airways. COPD usually occurs after the age of 60 and is usually associated with smoking.
Myth 3: COPD only causes breathing problems
Another common misconception is that COPD only causes shortness of breath. While this is its main symptom, it can also cause:
- Excessive phlegm production.
- Respiratory infections.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Widespread pain.
- Cognitive impairment.
As COPD gets worse it can also make it hard to do everyday activities. Another aspect highlighted by the experts is that COPD patients often suffer from other diseases, such as heart disease, osteoporosis, musculoskeletal disorders, or lung cancer.
Myth 4: If I don’t smoke I won’t develop COPD
It is true that not smoking significantly reduces the risk of developing COPD, but it is not completely exclusive. Researchers estimate that approximately 10% to 20% of COPD patients have never smoked.
There are other risk factors that contribute to the development of this disease, such as:
- Passive exposure to tobacco smoke.
- Exposure to dust, fumes or chemical products (generally in the workplace).
- Air pollution.
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, an enzyme that protects the body from immune attack.
Events in fetal life and early life, such as intrauterine growth retardation, prematurity, and frequent or severe respiratory infections in infancy, that prevent the lungs from fully developing.
Myth 5: Young people can’t get COPD
That’s not true. Although COPD is more common in older adults, it can also affect young people. According to statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2007 and 2009 COPD affected 2% of men and 4% of women between the ages of 24 and 44, and 2% of men and 3% of women between 18 and 24 years old.
Myth 6: Diet has no influence on COPD
This is false. The researchers say that a healthy diet can make a difference for people living with COPD, as it promotes general health and can protect against exacerbations of the disease and its comorbidities. This type of diet should include fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes and cereals.
Myth 7: If I have COPD I can’t exercise
Exercise can generate doubts and even fear among people with COPD, due to difficulties in breathing properly. However, specialists encourage patients to engage in regular physical activity, as it helps increase breathing capacity and improves daily symptoms.
To avoid problems, you can consult your doctor for pulmonary rehabilitation programs, which offer guided breathing techniques along with physical exercise to maximize results.
Myth 8: There are no treatments for COPD
Fortunately, this is another myth. Depending on each person’s COPD, there are different ways to treat it, however, it is important to bear in mind that this disease has no cure, so the aim is to delay progression, reduce the risk of complications and exacerbations, and improve the ability to carry an active life.
Among the main treatments we find:
- Medication use: such as bronchodilators (short-acting or long-acting), inhaled or oral steroids, phosphodiesterase 4 inhibitors, theophylline, or antibiotics, among others.
- Pulmonary therapies: such as oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation programs, or non-invasive assisted breathing therapies at home.
- surgeries: such as lung volume reduction, lung transplant, or bullectomy.
- Control your breathing.
- Clear your airways.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Avoid smoke and air pollution.
- Have regular medical checkups.
You can also take different steps to feel better and lessen damage to your lungs:
Sources consulted: US National Library of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mayo Clinic, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, World Health Organization (WHO),