Chronic Lung Disease, also known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or Chronic Obstructive Airway Disease (COAD), is a term used to refer to chronic respiratory diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It is a progressive disease that causes difficulty in breathing. The term "progressive" here means that the disease worsens over time. Under these conditions, the airways become narrowed and limited flow of air to and from the lungs causes a shortness of breath. In chronic bronchitis, there is persistent inflammation of the airways (bronchi) in the lungs. In emphysema, the bronchioles (smaller airways) and alveoli (air sacs) of the lungs are damaged. Most patients with chronic lung disease have a mix of both emphysema and bronchitis. Unlike Asthma, this condition is unfortunately irreversible and usually worsens over time.
Figure A shows the location of the lungs and airways in a healthy body. The inset image shows a detailed cross-section of the bronchioles and alveoli. Figure B shows lungs damaged by chronic lung disease. The inset image shows a detailed cross-section of the damaged bronchioles and alveolar walls.
Image source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
It is currently the seventh leading cause of death in Singapore. About 2,000 hospitalisations a year are due to lung disease and the numbers are steadily rising.
Smoking is the main culprit in most cases as it damages the lining of the airways from the lungs and causes the lining to become inflamed. Air pollution including polluted work conditions can also play a part in worsening the patients’ conditions.
When you consult your doctor, he or she will:
If you experience any of the above symptoms or belong to the high risk group, you are most likely to be suffering from chronic lung disease.
Currently, there is no cure for chronic lung disease. However, there are medications to treat the symptoms and prevent or minimise complications. Lifestyle changes can also help to improve the condition significantly.
The best way to prevent chronic lung disease from deteriorating is to quit smoking. Other airway irritants (such as air pollution, chemical fumes, and dust) also may aggravate the condition, but they are far less damaging compared to smoking.
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Health Promotion Board
There are a few factors causing breathlessness:
If you are currently smoking, the first step you should take is to quit. Although you may already be diagnosed with chronic lung disease, quitting smoking can help to significantly improve the function of your lungs. There are also medications available that can help improve lung function for better breathing.
Smoking is the cause of most cases (up to 90%). Smoke from cigarette can cause inflammation and damages the lungs, a result which is believed to lead to chronic lung disease.
Your healthcare provider can help you live more comfortably with chronic lung disease. Your doctor’s advice and treatment may include quitting smoking, consuming of medication, exercising regularly, obtaining supplemental oxygen and going for vaccination.
A mild to moderate workout routine can improve your health. In fact, physical activities can contribute many benefits such as improving muscle tone, increasing energy levels, strengthening the heart, and boosting your self-esteem. You may consult your doctor for a more comprehensive exercise regime.
Controlling your coughs can help in preserving your energy. Practising pursed lip breathing can also ease shortness of breath. Consult your doctor about which techniques are more effective for you.
It is important for patients to maintain a healthy diet which helps to provide the additional energy required as breathing gets difficult as well as promoting a better overall well-being. Salty food should be avoided as too much sodium will lead to fluid retention in the body. Try to consume fresh, healthy food such as leafy greens, fruits, veggies, whole grains and proteins.
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