My dad had his own personal Great American Smokeout about 40 years ago. A smoker since he was a teenager, he caught a bad cold that prompted him to quit. He stopped lighting up for the duration and never picked it up again. He completely lost the urge and, as time went on, secondhand smoke bothered him more and more. I always say it was the cold that saved his life.
Alas, he still developed COPD—Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Whether it was the smoking in conjunction with being around his dusty building supply business and a predisposition to lung ailments that began as childhood asthma, my father spent the last 15 years of his life dealing with shortness of breath and slowly giving up activities he loved. Toward the end of his life, he hated being chained to an oxygen canula even though he added extra tubing so he could walk the length of his ranch-style home.
My dad, who died a little over three years ago, was not alone. According to the COPD Foundation, someone dies of COPD every four minutes in the United States. The disease causes 285,000 emergency hospitalizations annually in the country. Approximately one in five Americans over the age of 45 lives with COPD. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 15.7 million Americans have reported that they have been diagnosed with COPD. The COPD Foundation puts that number at 24 million, with only half knowing they have it.
A person might have COPD and not know it, at least until it reaches the moderate stage. If you think there is a chance you might have COPD, you can ask your doctor to give you a spirometry test that measures how well your lungs are working. It’s a simple and easy test that can help diagnose this disease.
Risk factors for COPD include being a former or current smoker, of course. Also, exposure to harmful lung irritants over a long period of time and a history of COPD in your family also can be factors.
It’s important to get an early diagnose of COPD so you can get medication and therapy to keep the symptoms from worsening faster. Exercise also helps. Many adults are incorrectly diagnosed with asthma. The proper diagnosis allows you to get the right treatment as well as follow-up monitoring. There is no cure for COPD, but treatments are available that can help you get through your days with less wheezing and more of doing the things you enjoy.
If you are on the fence about getting tested, you can go online and take a short and easy screener quiz to gauge the probability that you might have COPD. Even though I never smoked a cigarette in my life, I still worry that exposure to secondhand smoke and my family history could put me at risk. I just took the quiz and scored a 1—a 5 or above means you might have COPD.
I admired my father for many reasons, including how he coped with his COPD. He grew to be extremely vigilant about his health. Because of that, he made it to the age of 80, a milestone for which I’m very grateful. Getting a diagnosis early can mean a longer and more productive life. And if you smoke, consider trying to give cigarettes up for at least one day. It could be the first step to a smoke-free life.