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The onset of the pandemic in 2020 brought respiratory ailments to the forefront of public health. In the recent past, the increasing AQIs across cities and the dipping temperatures were aggravating respiratory issues beyond control. People and authorities together have taken the necessary measures to bring the pandemic slightly under control. For the time being, heightened awareness and concern is still needed to protect patients suffering from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases) ailments. Patients with COPD related comorbidities are always vulnerable to air-borne illnesses. These patients are even more susceptible to contract COVID-19 again, especially those residing in metropolitan cities such as Delhi and Bengaluru, where pollution is a public health problem.
COPD is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Each year, Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) collaborates with health care professionals and COPD patient groups and observes World COPD Day on 17 November to increase conversations and awareness around COPD ailments. This year's theme is - 'Healthy Lungs Never More Important', which highlights that there is never a more critical time to focus on our respiratory health.
In medical terms, COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is an umbrella term for two primary conditions: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Both these conditions make it harder for the patient to breathe air in and push air out, which means the patient is not able to take enough oxygen in or has a hard time breathing out, which means carbon dioxide remains in the body. While emphysema destroys the air sacs in the lungs, which interferes with outward airflow, bronchitis causes inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes, allowing mucus to build up.
A few symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, lack of energy and frequent respiratory infections. People with COPD are also likely to experience episodes called exacerbations. Their symptoms become worse than the everyday variation and persist for at least several days. The primary concern here is that COPD significantly damages the lungs, and by the time these symptoms are visible in a patient, the damage is already done.
India is estimated to have over 55.3 million COPD patients. According to a report by INSEARCH, an estimated 4.46 per cent of male and 2.86 per cent of the female population has COPD issues in India. As per the same report, COPD causes a loss of over 48,000 crores annually and is a substantial economic burden in India, impacting individuals' productivity and economic growth. Not only the individual, but COPD also indirectly affects the health and wellness of the family and co-workers of the patient, which further costs the economy. What is worse is that more than half of the patients suffering from COPD are not even aware of its symptoms or are completely unaware.
The treatment of COPD has greatly evolved over the years, thanks to newer medications like bronchodilators, biologics and better patient awareness. However, getting medical intervention at the right time coupled with lifestyle changes is important to help the patient breathe better and lead a better quality of life. Advancements in digital health and telemedicine have made treatment options easy and convenient, even for chronic diseases such as COPD.
For patients in the far end of the spectrum, options such as non-invasive ventilation (NIV) therapy can help improve patient quality of life and reduce hospitalizations. Recent studies for the use of NIVs have shown that:
While medical intervention is important for patients with acute symptoms, everybody can observe a few measures to keep their lungs healthy, such as:
In case of acute exacerbations, the patient should consult a pulmonologist for treatment.
References Lancet Respiratory Medicine 2014  Galli JA et al. Respir Med 2014  Duiverman ML et al. Thorax 2008.
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