When we notice a fellow shopper or someone in a restaurant with oxygen tubing in their nose and an oxygen tank, we can assume they have some kind of breathing problem. This breathing problem is usually related to chronic bronchitis or emphysema - or both.
The occurrence of one or both of these conditions is called COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Are you a smoker? Have you smoked for many years? Years ago, it seemed as if everyone smoked.
No one realized at that time, the damage it was doing to our lungs. It wasn’t until 1964 when warnings were put on cigarette packs. No one had a clue about second hand smoke back then. Now we are even advised about third hand smoke.
Emphysema is almost always due to years of smoking. Shortness of breath, coughing with mucus production, barrel chest, and blueness of fingers are sure signs of this disease.
If you live or work in an environment where others smoke, you will inhale second hand smoke. If you are a non-smoker, try to avoid situations where second hand smoke is present. Over the years, it has been discovered that second hand smoke may be as dangerous as if you had smoked yourself.
The good news about quitting smoking is that any damage already done to the lungs will be stopped, and some of it even reversed. Almost all restaurants, campuses and public places are now smoke free.
However, we do live in Las Vegas where we may frequent casinos. I don’t have to tell the non-smokers about the amount of second hand smoke there.
And if you are a smoker and require oxygen, PLEASE do not smoke while wearing, or being near the oxygen! Oxygen is highly flammable.
The other disease considered to be part of COPD is chronic bronchitis. I am not talking about bronchitis that you may get once every couple of years for a month or so. I am talking about a chronic cough that lasts three months a year for two consecutive years.
A good amount of mucus is produced. Chronic bronchitis usually occurs after age 35, accompanied by a bluish appearance; especially around the lips and fingernails, obesity, and general swelling.
You will have the feeling of not being able to inhale enough oxygen, because the breathing tubes in your chest are narrowed and inflamed. You will be short of breath, experience a chest tightness, and possibly hear a wheeze. Anxiety is common when the feeling of oxygen starvation occurs.
COPD opens you up to several other complications as well. Increased respiratory infections, high blood pressure, heart disease, and lung cancer. Depression may set in, due to the inability to perform activities you enjoy.
The most important step in any treatment plan for COPD is to stop smoking. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs. Ask him or her about nicotine patches and medications that might help.
And don’t forget to avoid second hand smoke exposure whenever possible. Do it for yourself, and your children. You will not only being setting a good example for them, but will be healthy enough to someday play with their children.
***Lenore DiPietro is a former Nursing Instructor for the College of Southern NV. She graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Nursing from LaSalle University, Philadelphia, PA, and has been a registered nurse for 22 years. She also holds a BA in Education from Adelphi U., Long Island, N.Y.