More than just a smoker's cough

 But he was more scared about having a heart attack. So he took an ECG every year but it was always normal, and his chest x-rays were clear. Even though he was getting breathless and coughing a lot, he thought it was a normal ‘smoker’s cough’. He ignored it until he reached a stage where he couldn't walk far without getting breathless.

Now he has given up smoking and is on treatment for COPD. It was tough to quit smoking, but with will power he succeeded. COPD is the short form for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

The air tubes which carry air in and out of the lungs become narrower, so the amount of air that goes in is much less. Also, air cannot get out of the lungs properly. Because of this, the patient feels breathless, his lungs feel full, and his chest feels tight. These are the symptoms of COPD.

Smoking is the most common cause of COPD. People who get COPD are usually smokers over 40 years. They may be ex-smokers who have quit, but already have lung damage. Even passive smokers can get COPD. Constant exposure to fumes from burning firewood or charcoal is also a risk factor. That is how many women in rural India get COPD from their cooking stoves (chula) or room heaters (sigri).

Asthmatics can get COPD if their asthma is not properly controlled. Occupational exposure to dusty or smoky air like coal mines  or other industries like cement, textiles and chemicals may also cause COPD.

The patient is asked to do a breathing test called spirometry, by which the doctor grades COPD as mild, moderate or severe, and decides on the treatment plan accordingly. The most important advice is to stop smoking and take the prescribed medicines regularly.

The patient’s condition can get worse even if he smokes just two cigarettes a day. Cigarette smoke reduces the lungs’ immunity against infections. It irritates the airways which get narrower and produce excess mucus that blocks them. If the patient fails to kick the habit, the doctor may recommend a nicotine patch/chewing gum. This nicotine substitute reduces withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, restlessness and craving for tobacco smoke.
                              
Quit now!

*Set a definite date when you will stop smoking completely.

* Tell your friends and family that you are trying to stay away from cigarettes.      They will support and motivate you.

* Take one day at a time. Mark off each successful day on a calendar.

* Avoid people who smoke and places that make you want to smoke.

* Remove all ashtrays, cigarette packs and lighters from your home.

* Keep your hands busy. Whenever you feel like picking up a cigarette, pick up a pencil instead.

* If you feel an urge to smoke, chew some gum instead.

* Even if you start smoking again, don’t give up on your goal.

On an average, people make 3-4 attempts to quit before they stop smoking permanently.

Tips

* Keep the air clean in your home. Avoid smoke, fumes and strong smells. If your house is being pest-controlled or painted, stay away.

* If you are cooking, keep the kitchen windows open and use an exhaust fan.

* On days when there is a lot of pollution and dust outside, keep the windows closed.

*If you are overweight, it is harder to breathe. Try to lose weight.

* If you become breathless while eating, eat slowly and talk less. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables; in small amounts but more frequently.

* Drink lots of water. This helps to make the mucus in your lungs thinner, so that you can cough it out easily.

* Do breathing exercises. Walk slowly for 20 minutes daily. If you feel breathless, stop and rest.

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