There are many risk factors associated with COPD. The main one is long-term exposure to tobacco smoke. In general, the longer you have smoked and the more things you have smoked (cigarettes, pipes, cigars, etc.), the more likely your risk is to developing COPD. Symptoms usually start showing up around 10 years after someone starts smoking. Those who have been exposed to a lot of secondhand smoke can also be at risk for getting COPD.
Other risk factors include being exposed to chemicals and dust (often job-related), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), genetics (a rare condition called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency may cause COPD) and age, as symptoms don’t usually show up until people reach about 40 or so.
If you’ve been diagnosed with COPD, treatments will probably include a combination of medications, some of which you’ll take all of the time and some as you need them. Common drugs include inhaled steroids, which can reduce airway inflammation, antibiotics, to help fight bacterial infections and bronchodilators, which help relax the muscles around your airways, which in turn helps make breathing easier. Bronchodilators are usually found in the form of an inhaler.
Some patients with COPD are candidates for surgery, especially if medication therapy doesn’t work. COPD-related surgeries include lung volume reduction surgery, which involves taking out small pieces of damaged lung tissue, and even a single-lung transplant. While this might seem like a way to cure COPD, it actually has not been found to lead to a longer life expectancy and many patients have to wait for a really long time before getting a donated lung.
Other treatments for COPD include oxygen therapy and a pulmonary rehabilitation program which involves a combination of education about COPD, counseling, nutrition and exercise. Along these lines, people with COPD can do a variety of things on their own to help manage their condition, including drinking plenty of water to help thin mucus, relaxation techniques, regular exercise, and if necessary, losing weight. All of these approaches may really help keep your breathing as normal as possible.