'Journey from Asthma to Emphysema'
|Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D., psychologist
If you have asthma and/or are at risk for COPD, please review these tips closely:
Know your numbers! There is a popular mantra in the patient advocacy groups, "Test your lungs and know your numbers! We know the numbers for air needed in our car tires but we don't know the numbers of our own "inflatable tires (lungs)" on which our body runs. Ask your doctor for spirometry, if you have not had any. " Know your numbers particularly for FEV1 (Forced expiratory volume for the first second) and FEV 25-75%, which would be your forced expiratory volume between 1 and ½ second to 4 and ½ seconds for a 6-second test. When you find out these numbers write them down and track them for life in order to monitor your lung function. If your numbers are 80% or below compared to the average person of your age, ask for a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT) which will provide more detailed information about your lung function.
Minimize exposure to allergens and irritants! As COPD advances, lungs become more hypersensitive and people tend to develop new allergies that did not bother them earlier. However, if you had asthma to begin with, with or without COPD, you already have more than your fair share of allergies and irritants which might be causing lung inflammation and triggering asthma attacks. For this reason, asthma education classes list the common asthma triggers and encourage patients to identify their own unique asthma triggers.
I prefer the term "allergens and irritants" over "asthma triggers." A trigger is more likely to be viewed as something that would bring on an asthma attack or aggravate asthmatic symptom such as chest tightness, wheezing or shortness of breath. But there could be other chemical, environmental, occupational or food-related allergens or irritants that could aggravate already existing symptoms or make you more vulnerable to respiratory infections. Repeated exposure to those over time could further compromise your lung function and hasten the progress of the disease.
We all know about allergens such as pollen, chemical-noxious agents, tobacco smoke including second hand smoking, indoor pollution, unhealthy work environment, viral infections, etc. Lesser known is the fact that natural events such as cold air, heat, high winds, rain or sudden change in the weather or temperature can irritate your respiratory system on an ongoing basis. It is best to minimize exposure to such irritants. Furthermore, take extreme caution against tobacco smoke and alcohol because in addition to their well-known harmful effects, they might also be causing allergies or irritation to your lungs.
Manage your emotions! All emotions affect our breathing. Association between the emotional problems such as anxiety, panic attacks or depression and lung diseases such as the asthma and COPD is strong. High emotional suffering can contribute to the disease progression and complicate the treatment and rehabilitation. Don't hesitate to seek help; it's the smart thing to do.
Train your breath! Develop breath awareness. Be mindful of your breath. Do breath-meditation by simply observing your incoming and outgoing breath for a few minutes at a time. Follow my breath mantra, "Slow your breathing! Lengthen your exhalation!"
* Use www.mindpub.com search engine for "relaxation, breathing, stress management, anxiety, panic attacks, meditation and other terms used here.
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