Chronic lung disease among older Americans

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Chronic lung disease is common in older Americans. In some cases, this is called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

There are two components of COPD. Emphysema makes it hard to breathe out (exhale). Chronic bronchitis causes a persistent deep, moist cough. These diseases can be treated, but they cannot be cured. Treatment involves inhaled medication, oral medication, oxygen, and the patient may need a ventilator when symptoms are severe.

The physicians who specialize in lung problems are called Pulmonologists. If you are taking lung treatments such as inhalers and you have occasional episodes of shortness of breath or coughing, you should consider being referred to a Pulmonologist. That doctor will manage your lung disease and your primary doctor will take care of your general health.

The cause of chronic lung diseases in many older Americans is cigarettes. In 1940, when soldiers returned from World War II, smoking became very prevalent in this country. In 1940, 50 percent of Americans smoked and cigarette advertising made it a hard habit to break.

As Americans learned that the nicotine in cigarettes was addictive, they found they could not stop the habit. Today 13 percent of Americans still smoke. Lung disease due to smoking often shows up when the smoker has used cigarettes for many years and the damage to the lungs may be permanent.

A second cause of lung disease is allergies This is usually called asthma. This problem often starts in childhood and is seasonal. Certain pollens, perhaps grass or weeds, cause irritation in the lungs. There is coughing and wheezing.

Pediatricians or pediatric specialists may treat children with asthma. The patients often are well in the winter and symptoms begin every spring. Most asthmatic children now lead a relatively normal life. For periods of the year, they take inhaled medication. But the asthma of childhood may not go away. It is especially problematic if the young person begins to smoke cigarettes so that year-round permanent lung damage occurs.

COPD and asthma are the common lung conditions in the US. Their damage may be avoided by never smoking cigarettes. Even if you have smoked for many years, you will benefit by stopping now. Talk to your doctor about stopping.

If you have tried stopping before, try again. It is best to plan ahead with a “quit date,” and prescriptions from your doctor for nicotine replacement products and medication to ease the addiction problem. Many people quit successfully “cold turkey” and there is no reason not to use that method.

There are many other pulmonary diseases that occur in adults. One is cystic fibrosis. This lung disease was fatal to most in the past as young adults. Now treatment is more successful and lung transplant may offer a cure.

Lung cancer is very serious and often fatal. Most people with lung cancer have smoked cigarettes in the past. Diagnosis is by X-ray tests and biopsy. Treatment is by cancer specialists and pulmonary doctors.

Pneumonia is an illness that usually comes on suddenly. It is an infection in the lungs and should usually be treated with antibiotics or anti-viral medications. This can occur due to COVID-19 or due to influenza. Getting immunized against these illnesses is an approach to prevention.

Tuberculosis is a lung infection that can be fatal without treatment. It is very common in some other countries, but rare in the U.S. It can occur in people who have lived in other countries and then moved here. It is also caused by exposure to a case. Tuberculosis is almost always treated with medication, successfully, in this country.

Pulmonary embolus is a clot in the lung that may make it difficult to breathe and lower one’s blood oxygen levels. The clot usually begins in the legs and travels into the lung. Blood thinners are usually used to treat this condition.

All of these diseases, if severe, should be treated by specialists. The pulmonary specialist has many years of experience and will have practical suggestions when the symptoms are mild. When you have more severe symptoms their expertise will be helpful. Most of these conditions persist for many years and with the guidance of a physician, you should be able to maintain good health.

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