Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a collection of lung diseases that cause blocked airways and make breathing difficult. It can result in serious complications.
COPD and Bronchitis
Quite often when people get sick with an upper respiratory illness it can spread to the lungs and become bronchitis. Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus. It can also cause shortness of breath, wheezing, a low fever, and chest tightness. There are two main types of bronchitis: acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis in healthy adults quite often will clear up by itself. According to the Mayo Clinic, if it lasts longer than 3 weeks you need to see your doctor. They also suggest seeing your doctor if the following symptoms occur.
- prevents you from sleeping
- Is accompanied by fever higher than 100.4 F (38 C)
- Produces discolored mucus
- Produces blood
- Is associated with wheezing or shortness of breath
Left untreated, acute bronchitis can turn into chronic bronchitis which is a form of COPD. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are both long-term and progressive lung conditions. Because many people have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the umbrella term COPD is often used during diagnosis. Both conditions have similar symptoms and are typically associated with smoking.
Healthy people that develop bronchitis on a regular basis need to take the condition seriously and work with their doctor to get it treated before it becomes a chronic condition. Even healthy, non-smoking people can develop COPD if they don’t watch for conditions that lead to it and have a genetic predisposition. Bronchitis can turn into pneumonia if left untreated and major complications may develop.
COPD and Pneumonia
If you have COPD, you’re at a higher risk of developing pneumonia than those without COPD. People with COPD exacerbation and pneumonia are more likely to have serious complications in the hospital than those who have a COPD exacerbation without pneumonia. Early detection of pneumonia in people with COPD is important. An early diagnosis usually results in better outcomes and fewer complications. The sooner you get treatment and get symptoms under control, the less likely you’ll damage your lungs.
Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs. The infection causes inflammation in the air sacs in your lungs, which are called alveoli. The alveoli fill with fluid or pus, making it difficult to breathe. Pus is different than mucus as mucus is normal, slippery, mostly clear, and a stringy fluid substance produced by many lining tissues in the body. It is essential for body function and acts as a protective and moisturizing layer to keep critical organs from drying out. Mucus also acts as a trap for irritants like dust, smoke, or bacteria. Pus is a whitish-yellow, yellow, or brown-yellow protein-rich fluid called liquor puris that accumulates at the site of an infection. It consists of a buildup of dead, white blood cells that form when the body's immune system responds to the infection. This is why the color of what you might be coughing up is of interest to your doctor as it may indicate you have an infection.
Pneumonia symptoms can be mild to life-threatening. They can include:
- coughing that may produce phlegm (mucus)
- sweating or chills
- shortness of breath that happens while doing normal activities or even while resting
- chest pain that’s worse when you breathe or cough
- feelings of tiredness or fatigue
- loss of appetite
- nausea or vomiting
The most prevalent forms of pneumonia are bacterial and viral. Viral pneumonia cannot be treated with antibiotics, however, doctors may prescribe an antiviral medication that can reduce or shorten the impact of pneumonia. Oral antibiotics can treat most cases of bacterial pneumonia. Always take your entire course of antibiotics, even if you begin to feel better. Not doing so can prevent the infection from clearing, and it may be harder to treat in the future. If your symptoms are very severe or you have other health problems, you may need to be hospitalized. At the hospital, doctors can keep track of your heart rate, temperature, and breathing. Hospital treatment may include:
- Intravenous antibiotics injected into a vein
- Respiratory therapy, which involves delivering specific medications directly into the lungs or teaching you to perform breathing exercises to maximize your oxygenation
- Oxygen therapy to maintain oxygen levels in your bloodstream (received through a nasal tube, face mask, or ventilator, depending on severity)
Avoiding or Reducing Complications of Pneumonia and Bronchitis
Both bronchitis and pneumonia can start from a simple cold, the flu or other virus. It’s truly the complications of these events that lead to severe issues for COPD sufferers. Methods to prevent this from happening include:
- Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds
- Don’t touch your face
- Get plenty of rest
- Get an annual flu shot as soon as they are available
- Get a pneumococcal vaccine for pneumonia--discuss which one with your doctor
- Use medications as prescribed from your doctor
- Exercise and eat a healthy diet
- Avoid air pollution and smoking
If you do get pneumonia or bronchitis, check with your doctor before taking cough medicine and make sure to drink plenty of water. By doing these simple things, the effects of pneumonia and bronchitis will hopefully be less and lessen the impact on your COPD.
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