COPD: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

inhalation mask used for COPD treatments

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is an incurable but preventable lung condition. It collectively covers conditions such as emphysema (damage to the air sacs in the lungs) and also chronic bronchitis (inflammation of the airways).

According to the NHS, “Around 1 in 100 people with COPD has a genetic tendency to develop COPD called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency. Alpha-1-antitrypsin is a substance that protects your lungs. Without it, the lungs are more vulnerable to damage. People who have an alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency usually develop COPD at a younger age, often under 35 – particularly if they smoke.”

Some people can be genetically pre-disposed to COPD due to a weakness in the lungs. However, it mainly affects smokers as they reach middle age. On rare occasions those who are exposed to others’ cigarette smoke (passive smokers) may also develop COPD.

The condition can also affect those people who have long term exposure to dust and fumes such as coal dust, cadmium dust and fumes, grain and flour dust, silica dust, welding fumes and isocyanates.

COPD Symptoms

Often people can have the condition without realising. It is only when difficulty in breathing becomes worse to the point that it impacts on normal activities that sufferers tend to seek help.

Those suffering with COPD will tend to experience a chesty, phlegm producing cough.  They may pass this off as “smoker’s cough.” This cough may also be accompanied by wheezing, persistent chest infections, and breathlessness when active. These symptoms can flare particularly during the winter months but can also be aggravated at other times during the year.  

Some other symptoms can include weight loss, tiredness and swollen ankles. The sufferer may also experience some chest pain and coughing up blood—this should never be dismissed as it can also be a sign of lung cancer.

If undiagnosed and untreated, the symptoms will get progressively worse.

Many of the symptoms of COPD mimic those of other conditions such as asthma, heart failure, and anaemia so it is important to get an early diagnosis. COPD is easily diagnosed with a breathing test called spirometry but there are also other tests which will likely be carried out to determine the diagnosis. These can include chest x-ray, blood tests, ECG, and CT scan.

COPD Treatments: Inhalers

Whilst there is no cure for COPD, the earlier it is diagnosed the better the outcome is for treating and managing the condition. The priority is to minimise damage to the lungs which can be severe if left untreated.

There are many options for treating the condition, but quitting smoking is essential in order to reduce the risk of further damage. If the COPD has progressed to the point of affecting the breathing, then inhalers are likely to be prescribed.

Short term inhalers known as beta-2 agonist inhalers or antimuscarinic inhalers can be offered and these are basically used as/when breathing difficulties are experienced. They can be used up to a maximum of 4 times a day and work by opening up the airways to make breathing easier.

If the symptoms are pretty constant throughout the day, then the alternative of a long-term inhaler will most likely be prescribed. These will only be needed to be administered once or twice a day as each dose lasts for approximately 12 hours.

Steroid inhalers (corticosteroid medication)  may be used when the other inhalers prove ineffective. They can be prescribed as a combination of the first two with the added steroid medication which basically helps with the inflammation of the airways.

Stuffed monkey wearing an inhalation mask used in COPD treatments

COPD Treatments: Beyond Inhalers

In addition to the inhaler treatment, conventional medication can also be prescribed for addressing the inflamed airways, the mucous cough, or any infection present in the chest. In the event that the condition does not respond to the inhaler protocol or the COPD escalates to become more serious or debilitating, the following treatments are options:

  • Nebulisers, which can be used at home. They are a unit which allows large doses of medication to be administered in a spray form which is delivered by a face mask.
  • Oxygen therapy. A patient who suffers with severe COPD may need oxygen therapy. This ensures that the oxygen levels in their blood are maintained. Again, this is delivered through a machine via a face mask or nasal tube and can be administered at home for up to 16 hours a day.
  • Ambulatory oxygen. There are patients who will only get breathless during exercise or exertion, so they may be prescribed ambulatory oxygen which is used in the short term when their oxygen levels may become compromised by exercise.

Surgical Options

In exceptional circumstances, patients may have surgery if their COPD does not respond to medication. Surgical procedures carried out under general anaesthetic can be one of the three options listed below:

  • Bullectomy: the removal of a pocket of an air trapped in the lung. This helps make breathing easier.
  • Lung Volume Reduction: a surgery which removes severely damaged parts of the lung which then allows the healthier parts to better function.
  • Lung transplant: the damaged lung is completely removed and replaced with a donor organ.

Pulmonary rehabilitation may also be suggested. Pulmonary rehabilitation includes education on the condition and regular exercise sessions which are carefully monitored. Sufferers are normally under the care of a number of specialists such as physiotherapists, nurses, and occupational therapists. Each course normally lasts about 6 weeks in which time patients receive advice on such subjects as coping techniques, dietary advice, educating your family, and generally assisting the patient to deal both physically and mentally with their COPD.

Whilst there is no cure, the treatment options including the pulmonary rehabilitation help sufferers to capitalise on their existing lung function in order to help them live a more productive life.

Further Information

The British Lung Foundation has provided a useful booklet which explains more about COPD, living with the condition, and treatment protocols.


About the Author

photo of author Tracey Marinelli

Hi, I am Tracey, and I have been battling Fibromyalgia since 1989. I am a qualified Health & Wellness coach, freelance writer and wellness blogger. Using my experience and knowledge, I reach out to support & empower fellow sufferers through my blog at I share my life here in England with my husband, son and Lhasa Apso. At age 50 I decided to make some big life changes as I felt that at some point I could kick Fibromyalgia into touch (I am still trying). Through diet, exercise, meditation and massage I have felt better than I have in years. I am in a good place now and want to share my wellness journey to help other sufferers with this most frustrating of conditions.




ANSchart (1)

Dysautonomia (“Dys” from the Greek word for bad or malformed and “Autonomia” referring to the body’s autonomic nervous system (ANS)) is an umbrella term referring to a failure of the sympathetic or parasympathetic parts of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It may also refer to an overactive ANS. The ANS is what controls the involuntary functions of the body. It affects the nerves, which carry information from the brain to the rest of the automatic nervous system, including the heart, blood vessels, bladder and sweat glands.

Dysautonomia can cause problems within the heart, affecting heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure. It is often a secondary symptom of other chronic illnesses. Some dysautonomia conditions are reversible however, many conditions, such as co-morbidity with Parkinson’s disease are not. It may affect a local area of the body, or be more generalized throughout the body.

Dysautonomia affects over one million Americans and close to 70 million people worldwide. It affects both men and women. Despite its prevalence, dysautonomia may take a long time to be diagnosed due to the lack of awareness among patients and physicians. It is an “invisible” disease, as symptoms occur within the body. Often symptoms are more observable after the patient is exposed to heat, anxiety, or physical activity.

The most common forms are POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), NCS (Neurocardiogenic Syncope), MSA (Multiple Systems Atrophy) and PNF (Pure Autonomic Failure).


ANSchart (1)



Dysautonomia can occur due to injury of the ANS from another disorder, and may be genetic. It may also be caused by exposure to toxic chemicals, trauma or a viral illness. Some of the diseases that may cause dysautonomia are:

Diabetes                                                    Multiple Sclerosis
Alcoholism                                                Guillian Barre Syndrome
Parkinson Disease                                   POTS
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome                       Lyme disease
Injury to the spinal cord or nerves       HIV
Celiac Disease                                           Lupus

Symptoms and Diagnosis

To diagnose dysautonomia, the physician will test the functionality of the ANS, especially on the organs that are affected. Tests will likely include measuring blood pressure and heart rate in several positions, using a tilt table, sweat testing, and deep breathing.
Common symptoms of dysautonomia are fatigue, impotence in men, faintness upon standing, rapid pulse rate with exertion, weakness, dry mouth, cognitive impairment, orthostatic hypotension, urinary incontinence, and constipation.

Treatment and Management

While there is generally no cure for dysautonomia, treatment of the co-morbid illnesses may be beneficial in reduction of the symptoms. Medications may be used to treat the individual symptoms of dysautonomia, such as controlling blood glucose and using medication to treat acid-reflux, or giving injections of botulinum toxin type A to manage hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating). Other management measures can include elevating the head of the bed, and adding a high-salt diet and other lifestyle changes. Taking cooler showers, standing slowly from a sitting position and other postural changes may help.

tempurpedic bed


Depending on the cause of dysautonomia in the individual, prognosis can vary.

A few great places to find reference materials about dysautonomia are the National Dysautonomia Research Foundation, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. At Dysautonomia International, there are excellent materials for patients, physicians and educators, including brochures and slideshows to spread awareness of dysautonomia.

This Never Ending War

If you are a Spoonie, you are fighting a never ending war…. a never ending chronic illness war. All day and all night our bodies fight, whether they are fighting themselves or a foreign invader, they are fighting a never ending war just to be okay. Now I am going to tell you about my never ending war against Chronic Asthmatic Bronchitis (CAB), which is a mild form of COPD; I do have quite a few other illnesses, but this is the main one that effects my life in the largest way.

CAB has affected my life in a HUGE way, not only my day to day life, but my social life and my relationships with others. My day to day life with this disease is a struggle that I fear will only get harder as life goes on. All day and all night long my body fights itself and any foreign invaders that I may have picked up in public. Every time I get sick, I end up on antibiotics within a week and I end up so weak that I can’t stand long enough to shower (I actually have to sit when I shower)! My disease keeps me from being able to hang out with friends because I am just too exhausted to go anywhere or do anything, thankfully I do have some friends who understand. I can’t go out on dates because I am just too tired and I can’t eat out anywhere due to food allergies and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I also have to wear a pediatric flue mask (the adult size is too big ) when I am out in public to help prevent infections because my immune system is weak.

This war is scary and there are days when I just feel like giving up… BUT I have a Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who gives me the strength every day to get through. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Him, I would have given up a long time ago. The truth is, He has become my life: when my dreams died because of CAB, He stepped in and gave me new dreams— dreams to live for Him and not myself. I am here to for His purpose and bring Him glory in all I do. My faith and trust in Him get me through each day and help with the anxiety of having this life changing disease. I may be physically down and limited, but spiritually, I am strong and active.


This article is written by Rebecca Phelps (Bekka). You can read more about Bekka on her blog Chronic Beauty.


Spoonie Story: Tamara

spoonie story tamara

My name is Tamara I have chronic pain, Fibromialgia and C.O.P.D and numerous other health issues. I have fought with this for over six years and several misdiagnosis…

spoonie story tamara

I have to say that I agree with those of you who have said they are tired of hearing ” oh but you don’t look sick. ” It is the worst feeling to have to hear doctors and loved ones second guess your pain and your illnesses. I believe that it’s hard enough to deal with the physical pain we handle every day, we don’t deserve the emotional pain from disbelief….

I am so thankful for my supporters more than they will ever know… all of yall dealing with invisible illnesses you are my hero’s!!! You fight every day just to try to feel normal and have a normal life!!! I thank you for letting me be a part of this community!!!