Chronic Lung Disease

What is a chronic lung disease?
Chronic lung disease is a vague term used to describe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  COPD impairs breathing so even simple tasks can make a person short of breath.  Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are two types of COPD. Chronic bronchitis is long term inflammation of the bronchi (medium-size airways) in the lungs.  Emphysema is caused by damaged lung tissue and problems with the small airways in the lungs. 

What causes chronic lung disease?
Causes of chronic lung disease can be attributed to smoking, air pollution, occupational exposure (fumes, dust, etc), family history, history of asthma, history of lung infections, or low birth weight.

How do I prevent chronic lung disease?
There are steps to prevent COPD before it starts. But if you already have COPD, you can take steps to slow the progression of the disease.  If you smoke, STOP NOW and don’t start smoking.  Smoking cessation is the most important factor to slow the progression of COPD.  Even at a late stage of the disease, it can significantly reduce the rate of deterioration in the lungs and delay the onset of disability and death.  Avoid lung irritants such as second hand smoke, air pollution, and/or occupational exposure. It is recommended to get the flu and pneumonia vaccinations.

What are the symptoms of chronic lung disease?
A chronic cough is usually the first symptom to occur. Some call it a “smoker’s cough”.  Sputum may or may not be coughed up and will vary in color.  People with COPD often have a history of "common colds” lasting a long time.  The symptom that bothers most people is shortness of breath.  Typically, over time, the feeling of shortness of breath increases in duration, lasts longer, and is worse with exercise or even walking. In advanced COPD, shortness of breath occurs during rest and may be always present.  Other symptoms might include wheezing, taking longer to breath in and out, chest tightness, a barrel chest (chest looking like a barrel), feeling tired, weight loss, finger nail clubbing (fingertips and fingernails to spread out and become rounder), and breathing through pursed (puckered) lips. 

What happens next?
Your family doctor will talk to you about chronic lung disease.  Your doctor might refer you to a pulmonologist (lung doctor). They might do further tests to see how advanced your lung disease is.  Your doctor might start you on medications such as inhalers, steroids, long term use of antibiotics, and oxygen.  Your doctor might recommend pulmonary rehabilitation.  Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program of exercise, disease management, and counseling that is geared towards each person.

Who do I contact with any additional questions?
You can contact your family doctor who referred you for the screening.