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What is COPD? - Respiratory Therapist Career Guide

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What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an umbrella term that encompasses emphysema, refractory asthma and chronic bronchitis. COPD is a serious lung disease that over time makes it hard to breathe.

In people with COPD, the airways and air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs are partially blocked and stiff, which makes it hard to move air in and out of the lungs.

Your respiratory therapist will teach you what it means to have COPD and what you can do to make the most your remaining lung function.

COPD develops very slowly and worsens over time. Healthy lungs are elastic and bounce back to their original shape after taking a breath, just like a balloon does. This elastic-like quality helps retain the normal function and structure of the lung and helps to quickly move the air in and out.

In people with COPD, the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs) no longer bounce back effectively to their original shape. The airways can also become thick and swollen and sputum production may increase.

It’s important to understand how the positive pressure of pursed-lip breathing works by holding the alveoli open and inflated. This allows for better gas exchange in the lungs. We want to get the oxygen in and the carbon dioxide out.

The physician will order medications such as bronchodilators that open the airways providing quick relief and other medications called anti-inflammatory that are slow acting and prevent swelling in the airways.

Your respiratory therapist will administer these medications via and aerosolized nebulizer. It simply is a device that makes a mist out of the liquid medication so that you can breathe it into your lungs.

COPD is diagnosed with a non-invasive test called spirometry. This is a simple breathing test that measures how much air the patient can blow out of the lungs (volume) and how fast he or she can blow it out (flow).

Doctors advise their patients to receive the influenza and pneumonia vaccine every year since the flu can cause serious complications for people with COPD.

Your physician may also recommend pulmonary rehabilitation following an exacerbation (flare-up) of your COPD. This is a program that helps the patient learn to exercise and manage their disease with physical activity, counseling and education. It teaches you to stay active and learn coping strategies to carry out your daily tasks. Your respiratory therapist plays a vital role in this pulmonary rehabilitation education.

 
 
 
 

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