My friend Carole was really looking forward to her approaching retirement. There was so much she would at last have the time to do; playing golf, tennis and bridge with her many friends, walking through the forest with her dog and finally getting around to booking the cycling holidays she has always promised herself. She knew she should give up smoking; kept deciding that she would quit … tomorrow; or the next day. But Carole had smoked heavily for over 40 years and her health was fine; she’d be okay.
Carole was pensioned off two years early on grounds of ill health; she had contracted COPD. Ten years on, she is virtually housebound and cannot walk more than a few feet without struggling for breath. She cannot go out shopping unaided and has to use a motorised scooter for even the shortest of journeys. She takes a cocktail of drugs to keep her airways open and has oxygen cylinders on standby in every room in her specially adapted bungalow. She never did get to do any of the things she had worked so hard to enjoy during her retirement.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the collective name for several different lung diseases including; chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease. COPD causes severe airflow obstruction – narrowing of the airways. Symptoms include; increasing breathlessness, a persistent cough, and frequent chest infections.
Smoking causes COPD and the longer you have smoked for the more likely you are to develop the condition. Smoke and the toxic chemicals it contains irritate and inflame the lung tissue causing damage and scarring. As time passes, this inflammation causes permanent changes in the lung. The walls of the airways thicken, becoming narrowed and scarred; more mucous is produced and the delicate walls of the air sacs within the lungs are damaged causing emphysema. The lungs gradually lose their elasticity. These catastrophic changes are what cause the cough, breathlessness and phlegm associated with COPD. Exposure to fumes, asbestos fibres and air pollution can also cause COPD but these cases are rarer.
The damage caused to the lungs is irreversible but the progression of the disease can be retarded if smoking is ceased immediately the condition is diagnosed. Symptoms can be relieved somewhat by using an inhaler, oxygen and drug therapy. Physiotherapy and exercises are also very effective in the treatment of the condition.
The tragedy in Carole’s case is that COPD is very preventable. If only she had stopped smoking twenty years ago, she could be enjoying the active retirement she had worked so hard for. So many people become disabled through no fault of their own; genetic conditions, as a result of tragic accidents, through injury sustained whilst serving their country. It seems crazy that anyone would risk compromising their future health so drastically by continuing to indulge a habit they could so easily break.