By Kathy Hubbard
You have a cough. It’s not a cold; it’s just a cough that you’ve had for a month or two. And, just because you have had little energy this winter, you haven’t exercised much and noticed the other day that you were a little short of breath when you walked up the stairs. Is it nothing or is it chronic obstructive pulmonary disease aka COPD?
“Sometimes people think having trouble breathing is just something that comes with getting older,” The American Lung Association says. “It’s important to pay attention to these symptoms as they could be the first signs of lung disease, including COPD, asthma and lung cancer.”
Warning signs can come and go and if you’re like most of us, you’ll ignore them as long as possible. That’s actually not a good idea. If that cough comes with a lot of mucus, and it can be white, yellow or green, it might be COPD. If you’re wheezing, it means that something unusual is blocking your lungs’ airways.
“Unexplained chest pain that lasts for a month or more, especially if it gets worse when you breathe in or cough is also a warning sign,” ALA says. And, if you cough up blood it’s totally a signal of a health problem. If you experience any of the above symptoms, it’s time to see your healthcare provider.
If one day you wake up and the cough is worse, you’re having trouble eating or sleeping, you see a bluish tint around your lips or fingernails, you have a terrific headache, you can’t talk, your ankles or legs are swollen and you have a tummy ache or fever, it’s called a flare-up or exacerbation and likely will send you to hospital.
At Bonner General Health, when you’re released you’ll receive instructions on how to use your inhaler, a brochure on how to live with COPD and an invitation to join the Better Breathers Club. Started a little over a year ago, this support group for COPD patients and caregivers teaches better ways to cope with this disease.
“We meet for an hour and a half, in the east classroom at the hospital on the second Thursday of each month at 1 p.m. and all of the participants tell me that they wouldn’t miss it,” Marilyn Cupery the BBC’s facilitator told me in a recent interview.
Cupery is a registered respiratory therapist at the hospital and when she’s not finding expert keynote speakers for the Breathers Club she and her team perform pulmonary function testing, stress tests and EKG (electrocardiograms) helping to diagnose cardiopulmonary diseases.
“Doctors order pulmonary function testing to determine how the lungs are functioning and what type of medications will help improve it. We test the lungs, then administer medications and test again. It gives us a starting point towards finding out what will work,” Cupery said.
The Better Breathers Club helps members understand the stages of the disease while giving them insight on how they can improve their quality of life. They are educated by experts in various aspects of treatments and life lessons.
From the hospital laboratory manager who explained the what and why-for of blood tests to dietitians who gave tips on how good nutrition helps relieve symptoms to staff from the library who told how they deliver books to those who are shut-in this group has learned a lot in a short time and will learn more as the years go on.
“At our April meeting we hope to have a physical therapist teach the group how even simple exercises can improve their breathing,” Cupery said. “And, in the future, we hope to include more experts such as a psychologist to talk about the psychology of lung disease, and, a firefighter to give a home safety lesson, as in why you shouldn’t light the wood stove with your oxygen on!”
The American Lung Association who started Better Breathers Clubs throughout the country has now invited Cupery to participate in an experts panel. One of their objectives will be to find new topics and interesting speakers.
I asked Cupery what motivates the participants to keep coming to the BBC, and she said, “They’re interested in staying as healthy as possible and staying out of the hospital.” Are you ready to join them? Call 208-265-1043 for more information.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at email@example.com.