Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Nearly 24 million people have COPD, which is a progressive lung disease that affects different factors of one’s breathing. This disease makes it very difficult to breathe due to the damage in the lungs.  COPD slowly develops over time and includes conditions such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and refractory asthma (non reversible).

Chronic Bronchitis: the airways that carry air to the lungs are narrowed / blocked due to inflammation and the accumulation of mucus.

Emphysema: causes shortness of breath from the damage to the tiny air sacs that inflate and deflate during breathing; the damage prevents these air sacs from stretching and filling with air.

Causes of COPD

  • Smoking is the leading cause of COPD.
  • Long exposure to harsh chemical fumes, dust or air pollution 
    (ex: exposure to asbestos)
  • Rare genetic condition: Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (lack of a protein made in the liver)

Symptoms of COPD

  • Chronic cough
  • Mucus when coughing
  • Shortness of breath during daily activities and exercise

Diagnosing COPD

  • Spirometry and pulmonary function test measure gas exchange
  • Arterial Blood Gas determines the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood
  • Chest x-ray and CT scan: pictures can show signs of COPD or other conditions
  • Oximetry measures oxygen levels

Treatments for COPD

Individuals with COPD should follow the special considerations of:

  • Smoking cessation (Holy Cross Zachariah Family Wellness Pavilion offers acupuncture and hypnosis services to help patients quit smoking)
  • Alpha-1 Testing: testing for an inherited condition that is passed on from parent to child through their genes
  • Exercise can help improve functional capacity and residual lung volume
  • Medicines such as bronchodilators relax the muscle around the airways and opens them up to make breathing easier
  • Combination of bronchodilators plus inhaled gluco-corticosteroids, which have a role in the regulation of the metabolism of glucose
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation, oxygen therapy and surgery are also ways to treat COPD

Worsening of COPD Symptoms

Acute exacerbation of COPD, also known as acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis (AECB) is a sudden worsening of COPD symptoms (shortness of breath, quantity and color of phlegm), which typically lasts for several days:

  • Associated with increased frequency and severity of coughing
  • Often accompanied by worsened chest congestion and discomfort

AECB Treatments

  • Oxygen therapy should be initiated if there is a substantial risk of hypoxia.
  • Antibiotics are used if a bacterial infection is the suspected cause.
  • Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, reduce inflammation in the airways.

Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy involves breathing extra oxygen through a facemask or through a tube inserted just inside your nose. It may ease shortness of breath.


  • The best way to prevent COPD is to not smoke. If you are a current smoker, quit smoking. 
    Download our Smoking Cessation booklet.
  • Avoid air that is full of chemical fumes, dust, secondhand smoke and pollution.
  • Get vaccines, such as the flu vaccine, the pneumococcal vaccine, and the pertussis vaccine.

When people with COPD get the flu, it can often turn into something more serious such as pneumonia, which is why the flu vaccine is necessary. Pertussis, also known as whopping cough, can increase the risk of having a COPD flare-up, so receiving current pertussis vaccinations can help control COPD.

More Information on COPD

Patients diagnosed with COPD during their inpatient stay at Holy Cross Hospital may obtain more information about COPD by registering for and signing on to their MyHealth Patient Portal. Once logged in to your Patient Portal, more education on your condition is available under “My Health Tools.”

Download: Holy Cross Hospital COPD Brochure 
Download: Holy Cross Hospital COPD Booklet  
Visit: Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease