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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder

Could your lungs be retaining too much air? Could they be failing to empty themselves fast enough? Yes, it is possible. When a patient’s lungs consistently fail to release enough air, they suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or COPD.

Consider these analogies. Does a clogged sink contain too much water? Yes, because it takes too long to drain when you really want it to be empty—right now. Can a restaurant be too full? Yes, when it is not able to seat new people because the current guests are not finished with their meals. Can your home contain too many twentysomething children? Yes, because they occupy too much space while they take too long to move out. In a similar fashion your lungs can contain too much air, which they cannot release or push out fast enough.

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two illnesses generally referred to as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder. In most cases, chronic bronchitis and emphysema occur together. Chronic bronchitis is inflammation in the bronchia—the airways that deliver air to your lungs—that lasts three months or longer. It is that cough that includes an abundance of mucus and won’t go away. You may even wheeze and experience the discomfort from shortness of breath. Smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of chronic bronchitis. But prolonged exposure to heavy air pollution or dust can also lead to the condition. Over time, chronic bronchitis can clog or damage the bronchia, constricting the flow of air out of your lungs as you exhale.

Emphysema is a disease resulting from damage to microscopic structures in the deepest recesses of your lungs, the alveoli. Every time you inhale, hundreds of millions of these stretchy alveoli fill with air and expand. All the while, the membranes within your alveoli are transferring desirable oxygen to your blood as well as receiving unwanted carbon dioxide from your blood. When we exhale, we push the carbon dioxide out of our bodies and our alveoli shrink for a moment. When these stretchy alveoli are repeatedly exposed to contaminants, they lose their elasticity and their ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. Common inhaled contaminants include cigarette and marijuana smoke, airborne pollutants, dust particles, and fumes from occupational chemicals. As emphysema sets in, the alveoli rupture, diminishing the person’s air capacity. The most noticeable emphysema symptom is shortness of breath.

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