When Veterans deal with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), it becomes difficult to conduct daily activities. With Veterans already having to go through the stress of transition, COPD becomes another obstacle. Daily activities, such as getting up in the morning, are more challenging for one that has COPD versus one that doesn’t.
Recognizing the signs of COPD is essential as it will help manage the disease. The earlier, the better so that doctors can recommend treatments.
COPD makes a person have shortness of breath, which is a daily occurrence. When a Veteran is first diagnosed with COPD, their lifestyle drastically changes, and they will need to adjust to their everyday activities.
What is COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a severe disease that progresses over time and, unfortunately, incurable. The lung diseases associated with COPD are emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and refractory (non-reversible) asthma. It is vital to seek the right treatment for one to enjoy their life.
Emphysema occurs when there is damage to the air sacs in the lungs, where it is harder to breathe. The air sacs are restricted to oxygen. Chronic bronchitis is when there is damage to the bronchial tubes causing coughing and shortness of breath. When a person coughs and mucus is present, the mucus can last up to two years. Refractory asthma is not the same as regular asthma, where medication can open up the airways for one to breathe. In refractory asthma, medication is ineffective.
Causes of COPD
One of the main factors for acquiring COPD is smoking. Since smoking directly affects the lungs, there is a substantial amount of chemicals that pass in and out. The compound effect of tobacco will most likely develop COPD. Another factor is second-hand smoke and air pollution with long-term exposure.
COPD is often misdiagnosed, make sure to get tested to ensure that you are receiving the correct treatment. The best test to get done for this is the lung pulmonary function test, which measures the amount of oxygen which comes into your lungs.
Signs and Symptoms
COPD in Veterans can vary from person to person. Still, constant shortness of breath, wheezing, excessive coughing, and difficulty of simple activities are few ways to recognize the signs. At first, the shortness of breath can be brief, but when it progresses into a more severe issue, then it is time to check out the situation with your physician. It is essential to take account of your symptoms that occur daily.
Living with COPD
Now that we’ve defined with COPD is, what the causes are, and the symptoms, let’s picture a normal person version a person with COPD:
When an average person wakes up for the day, they get out of bed, go to the bathroom, then head to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. They eat breakfast and get ready for a shower. After 15-20 minutes, they are done with their shower and get changed for work.
For the person with COPD, they wake up slowly and have to catch their breath. They are still in their bed dealing with aches and shortness of breath. They didn’t get enough sleep because they woke up every two hours trying to battle their breathing. As they attempt to get out of bed, they struggle to even head to the bathroom. They must take breaks during this short walk to the bathroom, which results in frustration. They head to the kitchen, but they are moving very slowly.
Once reaching the kitchen, they take their medication, which alleviates the pain and can breathe better before getting in the shower and getting ready for the day. Currently, 30 minutes have gone by versus the average person where they were done in 30 minutes to head to work.
These two scenarios greatly vary because one has difficulty with tasks that seem simple to many but in reality, are very difficult with COPD. Veterans have to adjust to their post-military lifestyle, knowing civilian life. To even put things into perspective, Veterans have probably lived in many places, been deployed, under a lot of pressure, and having that go-go-go mentality. With COPD, the Veterans will need to adopt a modified lifestyle.
So what can I do about my COPD?
Besides medicine, there are some common treatments which can help with the disease according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Stop smoking! This will only further harm the lungs and will eventually reduce or eliminate your ability to breathe
- Lung therapies. If your blood does not have enough oxygen in it, then you may need to supplement your oxygen
- Pulmonary rehabilitation program. This program combines education, nutrition advice, counseling, and exercise training to give you the best solution and shorten the hospitalization visits
- Managing exacerbations. This is defined as your symptoms become worse for days or weeks. If you do not receive the treatment, you could have lung failure as a result
- Surgery. Surgery is an option depending on the type and development of the COPD you have.
If you need help receiving treatment from the VA due to a low rating, reach out! Through VA Claims Insider you will get access to our Elite Experience Portal AND VA medical nexus letters through our network! See you on the inside!