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A breath of fresh air

Do you have trouble breathing? Read on to see if you might have COPD.

September 17, 2010
By Michael Tidemann - Staff Writer

Estherville Rotarians Thursday learned about a very serious illness that's the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S. - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Amber Houge, respiratory therapist at Avera Holy Family Health, said smoking is the number-one cause of COPD, the only cause of death on the rise in the U.S. That's puzzling, since the number of people who smoke is actually declining. Houge said 16 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COPD and the same number have it but have not been diagnosed.

Smoking is the cause in 80-90 percent of COPD cases, Houge said. However, some occupations such as hair dressers, welders and those working with varnishes have higher rates of COPD. As an ag state, many Iowans are subjected to chemicals and dust, which could also contribute to COPD.

When people breathe in harmful chemicals, surfactant, a naturally occurring chemical in the body, combats them. However, the body can produce only a certain amount of surfactant. When it's exhausted, a person then loses the ability to fight inhaled chemicals. With COPD, a person may breathe chemicals in but be unable to breathe them out.

Houge said COPD is not curable; however, symptoms are treatable, especially in the early stages.

Following is a COPD screener that Houge distributed to Rotarians:

1) During the past four weeks, how much of the time did you feel short of breath?

n None of the time (0)

n A little of the time (0)

n Some of the time (1)

n All the time (2)

2) Do you ever cough up any "stuff", such as mucus or phlegm?

n No, never (0)

n Only with occasional colds or chest infections (0)

n Yes, a few days a month (1)

n Yes, most days a week (1)

n Yes, every day (2)

3) Please select the answer that best describes you in the past 12 months. I do less than I used to because of my breathing problems.

n Strongly disagree (0)

n Disagree (0)

n Unsure (0)

Agree (1)

n Strongly agree (2)

4) Have you smoked at least 100 cigarettes in your ENTIRE LIFE?

n No (0)

n Yes (2)

n Don't know (0)

5) How old are you?

n Age 35 to 49 (0)

n Age 50 to 59 (1)

n Age 60 to 69 (2)

n Age 70+ (2)

If your total score is between 0 and 4 and you experience problems with your breathing, please share this survey with your doctor or healthcare provider who can help evaluate any type of breathing problem.

If your total score is 5 or more, your breathing problems may be caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. COPD is often referred to as chronic bronchitis and/or emphysema and is a serious lung disease that slowly gets worse over time. While COPD cannot be cured, it is treatable.



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