` Managing COPD during the COVID-19 pandemic

Managing COPD during the COVID-19 pandemic

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What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) refers to the group of diseases that block the air passage, leading to breathing issues. Emphysema, which is damage to the air sacs of the lungs, and chronic bronchitis - severe inflammation of the air passage - are the two most common types of COPD.

Symptoms of COPD

In the early stages, the symptoms of COPD include occasional shortness of breath and recurrent mild cough. As the lung damage worsens, one may experience frequent breathing difficulties, wheezing, chest tightness, chronic cough, fatigue, and swelling of legs, feet, or legs. If not treated, COPD can be life-threatening.

Are COPD patients at risk of developing severe COVID-19 infection?

It has been discussed that people suffering from chronic lung diseases such as COPD and asthma may be at increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness. COVID-19 is known to worsen COPD symptoms and increase the risk of developing venous thromboembolism (formation of blood clots in the veins). This clot can later lodge into the lungs, resulting in pulmonary embolism.

How to manage COPD during the COVID-19 pandemic?

As per a study published in the journal, BMJ Thorax in 2020, it is necessary to manage COPD effectively in the context of COVID-19, as COPD patients are at high risk of poor outcomes. Antibiotics, bronchodilators, nebulisers, systemic corticosteroids, and breathing exercises can help in the effective management of COPD during the pandemic.

#1 - Identify the triggers and avoid them

Certain substances, allergens, or irritants can trigger or worsen COPD symptoms. Hence, it is crucial to identify such triggers and avoid them. Common COPD triggers include smoke, dust, pet dander, strong perfumes and extreme weather conditions (too hot or too cold). Cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke should be avoided as they can exacerbate COPD symptoms.

#2 - Prevent flare-ups

People with COPD must keep the necessary medications handy to prevent flare-ups and exacerbations. Some of the must-haves in their emergency kit include inhaled corticosteroids to control inflammation, long-acting bronchodilators to open the airways, and anticholinergics to reduce the production of mucous.

#3 - Practise breathing exercises

Breathing techniques help in controlling and reducing the episodes of breathlessness in people with COPD. Breathing exercises such as pursed-lip breathing, belly breathing, and yoga pranayamas can help improve lung capacity and clear out the mucus from the air passage.

#4 - Sign up for a pulmonary rehabilitation program

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program designed for people suffering from various acute and chronic lung conditions including COPD. In this program, the person is trained on exercise, health education, and breathing techniques to help reduce the symptoms of the disease. The program lasts for 4 to 12 weeks (twice or thrice a week).

#5 - Follow COVID-appropriate behaviour

Since COPD patients are at high risk of developing severe illness due to COVID-19, they must take measures to prevent the infection. This includes wearing masks, washing hands frequently, staying indoors, avoiding contact with the sick members of the family, routinely cleaning the surfaces in the house, and getting vaccinated.

When to seek urgent medical attention

People with COPD are usually advised by their doctor on how to manage their condition and prevent it from worsening. However, one should rush to the nearest medical centre if they experience trouble breathing despite taking medications, bluish or grey discoloration of lips or fingernails (this may indicate low blood oxygen levels), and racing heart.

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