If you've been diagnosed with emphysema, you've probably been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis as well, or vice versa. These two diseases are commonly grouped into one category and referred to as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, by most physicians. According to the American Lung Association (ALA), COPD is one of the leading causes of death in America. Here is an in-depth look at these two forms of COPD and how to live with them.
Emphysema described the damaged air sacs in a person's lungs, causing them to lose their elasticity. These air sacs are vital for the exchange of oxygen that is inhaled from the air and the carbon dioxide in the blood. Eventually, damage to these air sacs results in permanent fissures in the tissues of a person's lungs. The end result of emphysema is a limited air supply, which causes a person to frequently feel out of breath, especially during any physical activity.
Chronic bronchitis occurs when the airways to the body's lungs are damaged and also lose their elasticity. The affected airways limit the amount of air being passed, resulting in a hoarse cough. The cough then causes an excess of mucus that further blocks the airways, resulting in constant shortness of breath, wheezing and chest tightness.
Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are so closely related, they have been placed into one category - COPD. Physicians will often refer to both diseases as COPD since one disease often accompanies the other. The reason for this is they are both likely caused by the same thing: cigarette smoking.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause for COPD, although long-term exposure to other airborne irritants like dust, pollution and chemical fumes may also cause this condition. However, according to the ALA, approximately 85 to 90 percent of all COPD deaths are related to smoking. This is why it is so important to quit smoking if a person has yet to be affected by COPD.
Both emphysema and chronic bronchitis are gradual diseases, meaning they don't suddenly appear like other conditions or infections. Prolonged exposure to irritants, primarily tobacco smoke, is the only way one would obtain COPD. Interestingly enough, many people who suffer from emphysema and chronic bronchitis attribute their declining health, harsh cough, incessant wheezing, and difficulty breathing with "smoker's lung" or "smoker's cough." Sadly, those who ignore signs and symptoms of COPD visit their health care provider after their condition is in an advanced state, leading to life-threatening respiratory problems and even heart failure.
Unfortunately, there is no cure, or form of treatment for emphysema or chronic bronchitis, as COPD is a progressive disease that gradually becomes worse over time. However, there are certain steps and lifestyle changes that can be made to improve one's quality of life.