What are chronic bronchitis and emphysema?
These lung diseases make breathing harder. They're also called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
Chronic bronchitisis a swelling of the tubes that take air to your lungs. It's usually caused by smoking, but breathing irritating secondhand smoke, dust, or fumes from stoves, heaters, or chemicals can also cause it. As the tubes swell and produce mucus, they get narrower, making it hard to breathe. Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include repeated coughing that brings up mucus, wheezing, and shortness of breath. You may not be able to catch your breath when exercising.
Emphysemais caused by damage to the air sacs in your lungs, usually from years of smoking. Normally the air sacs supply oxygen to the blood. But the damaged air sacs can't deliver enough oxygen to your blood, which can make you feel short of breath. The most common early symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath during exercise. Over time, you may start to feel short of breath even while resting.
How will my healthcare provider know I have chronic bronchitis or emphysema?
Your healthcare provider will perform one or more of these simple tests to check your breathing:
* Spirometry. You'll exhale into a tube that's attached to a device called a spirometer, which measures the amount of air you breathe in and out of your lungs.
* Chest X-ray. You'll stand in front of an X-ray machine and hold your breath while the machine takes pictures of your chest. The X-rays may show problems in your lungs.
* Arterial blood gases. The healthcare provider will draw blood from an artery, usually one in your wrist, and have it tested for oxygen and carbon dioxide. If you have chronic bronchitis or emphysema, you'll have less oxygen or more carbon dioxide in your blood than normal.
How will I be treated?
Treatment for chronic bronchitis and emphysema is about the same. It won't make them go away completely, but you should feel better. Your healthcare provider may prescribe these treatments.
* Smoking cessation. If you smoke, stopping is important. Your healthcare provider can prescribe pills, gum, or patches to help you quit, recommend support groups, and help you find other ways to quit.
* Bronchodilators. These medicines help open your airways so you can breathe easier. Some are swallowed as pills and others are breathed in a handheld device called a metered-dose inhaler. Carefully follow the directions.
* Corticosteroids. These medicines can help reduce the swelling in your lungs.
* Antibiotics. If the amount of mucus you cough up gets worse or its color changes, you may have a lung infection. Your healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic.
* Oxygen therapy. If your blood isn't getting enough oxygen, oxygen therapy can help. Your healthcare provider will let you know how to get oxygen delivered to your home and show you how to use it.
What can I do to take care of myself?
* Learn breathing techniques. Pursed-lip breathing can help you breathe easier, especially if you're short of breath. Your healthcare provider can show you how to do this.
* Exercise regularly. Your healthcare provider can help you plan an exercise program that's right for you.
* Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight. Lose weight if you're too heavy. If you need to gain weight, your healthcare provider will recommend supplements.
* Drink lots of fluids, unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise, to help thin the mucus in your lungs.
* Stay away from fumes, smoke, and dust, as well as very hot or very cold temperatures. If it's hot outside, stay in air-conditioned rooms. Leave your house if it's being painted or sprayed for bugs.
* Avoid sick people. Stay away from anyone who has a cold or the flu, and get a flu shot each year and a pneumonia shot as recommended by your healthcare provider.
* Take your medicines as prescribed. Tell your healthcare provider if your medicines aren't helping. Don't stop your treatment or change the dose by yourself.
* Call for help if you feel worse. Call 911 if you have any unusual symptoms; for example, if you feel like you can't breathe, your heart is racing, or you have trouble talking or walking.