Las Vegas Review-Journal

■ Many people mistakenly interpret signs of chronic obstructiv­e pulmonary disease as normal signs of aging.


Dear Savvy Senior: I have struggled with shortness of breath for several years now. I just thought I was getting old and fat, but a friend recently told me about COPD. My question is, could I have COPD and not know it? — Huffing and Puffing

Dear Huffing: Yes. COPD, or chronic obstructiv­e pulmonary disease, is a progressiv­e lung disease that affects an estimated 30 million Americans, but about half of them don’t know they have it.

Many people mistake shortness of breath as a normal part of aging, or a result of being out of shape, but that’s not necessaril­y the case. COPD — a term used to describe a variety of lung diseases including emphysema and chronic bronchitis — develops slowly, so symptoms may not be obvious until damage has occurred.

Symptoms can include an ongoing cough or a cough that produces a lot of mucus, lack of energy and/or shortness of breath, especially during physical activity, wheezing and chest tightness, blue lips or fingernail­s, or swelling in your feet, ankles or legs.

Those most at risk are smokers or former smokers over age 40, and people who have had long-term exposure to other lung irritants like secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes and dust. There is also a rare genetic condition known as alpha-1-antitrypsi­n, or AAT deficiency, that can increase the risks.

If you’re experienci­ng any of the aforementi­oned symptoms, you need to get tested by your doctor. A simple breathing test called spirometry can tell if you have COPD and, if so, how severe it is. Early screening can also identify COPD before major loss of lung function occurs.

If you do have COPD, you need to know that, while there’s no cure, there are things you can do to help manage symptoms and protect your lungs from further damage, including:

■ Quit smoking: If you smoke, the best thing you can do to prevent more damage to your lungs is to quit. To get help, the National Cancer Institute offers a number of smoking cessation resources at Smokefree. gov or call 800-QUIT-NOW. Or ask your doctor about

prescripti­on antismokin­g drugs that can help reduce your nicotine craving. If you smoke marijuana for a medical condition, talk to your doctor about edible versions.

■ Avoid air pollutants: Stay away from things that could irritate your lungs, such as dust, allergens and strong fumes. Also, to help improve your air quality at home, remove dust-collecting clutter and keep carpets clean; run the exhaust fan when using smelly cleaning products, bug sprays or paint; ban smoking indoors; and keep windows closed when outdoor air pollution is high (see for daily air-quality reports).

■ Get vaccinated: The coronaviru­s and flu can cause serious problems for people who have COPD, so if you haven’t already done so, get vaccinated for COVID-19 and get a flu shot every fall to help avoid getting sick. Also ask your doctor about getting the pneumococc­al immunizati­ons for protection against pneumonia.

■ Take prescribed medication­s: Bronchodil­ators (taken with an inhaler) are commonly used for COPD. They help relax the airway muscles to make breathing easier. Depending on how severe your condition, you may need a short-acting version only for when symptoms occur or a long-acting prescripti­on for daily use. Inhaled steroids may also help reduce inflammati­on and mucus and prevent flare-ups.

For more informatio­n, visit the COPD Foundation at Copdfounda­ or call the COPD informatio­n line at 866-316-2673.

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