Short of breath
Short of breath
Emphysema, along with chronic bronchitis, is nowadays usually referred to under the term COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). COPD is often but not always attributable to smoking and relates to damage to the lungs which causes symptoms such as coughing and breathlessness.
Although COPD can cause similar symptoms to asthma, the difference is that there is no permanent damage to the lungs in asthma, and COPD tends to occur at a later age. Spirometry (a breathing test to measure lung volume by blowing into a machine) is used to help diagnose COPD and assess its severity. This can usually be performed at your GP surgery.
There is no cure for the damage already done to the lungs by COPD so treatment is aimed at improving symptoms and preventing further deterioration (in smokers, the most effective way to do this is to stop smoking). There are a number of inhalers which may be effective in alleviating your symptoms including bronchodilators, to open up the small airway passages in the lungs, and steroid inhalers. Other treatments include medicines to reduce mucus stickiness, antibiotics and steroid tablets to treat exacerbations and chest infections.
Continuing to exercise is important to maximise your lung capacity, and cycling is a good way to do this. You may be offered a pulmonary rehabilitation course where you are taught exercises to improve your breathing.
I’m not sure which breathing aid or device your friend refers to but I suspect that in your case inhalers will be the most useful treatment. Most GP practices have a nurse who specialises in COPD and asthma. It would be a good idea to discuss your treatment with them if you haven’t already done so.
Dr Matt Brooks
This was first published in the October / November 2012 edition of CTC's Cycle magazine.