November is COPD awareness month, a time to come together and educate people of all backgrounds about the global impact of chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD awareness month is marked by an orange ribbon and can be observed in a number of different ways. Despite being the third leading cause of death in the United States, COPD suffers from a severe lack of awareness. According to a Health Union survey, only about 38 percent of patients were aware what COPD was or what its risk factors were before being diagnosed.
Believe it or not, November is also lung cancer awareness month. And while these two diseases share many symptoms, causes, and risk factors, they are not the same disease. To put this into perspective, about 16 million people have COPD in the United States, yet only about 541,000 people have lung cancer in the United States. Generally speaking, more people are aware of the impact of lung cancer and they’re more educated about the symptoms than those of COPD.
No matter whether you’ve just been diagnosed with COPD, you’ve had COPD for years, or you’ve never been diagnosed with COPD, we’re going to take a look at seven of the best ways to celebrate COPD awareness month. If you have any questions about anything you’ve read here, please feel free to leave a comment or reach out to us.
Participate in Local Events
The novel coronavirus has made 2020 a difficult year for in-person events like concerts, fundraisers, and more. In order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, many of these events have been canceled in order to limit or outright prevent human-to-human contact. But that doesn’t mean that these events have stopped entirely, it just means that people have had to adapt to a new way of doing things. For most people, this has meant relying more on technology than ever before and embracing things like social media and video conferences.
Because COVID-19 specifically targets the respiratory system, it’s more important than ever for COPD patients to be aware of what’s going on in the world of COPD research. According to COPD News Today, although respiratory patients have a high survival rate when contracting COVID-19, they’re still at a much higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms from the virus than the general public. COPD patients are more likely to experience exacerbations such as increased dyspnea, phlegm production in the airways, and chest pain.
Mentor Youth to Prevent Smoking and Vaping
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking rates have declined from 20.9 percent in 2005 to 15.5 percent in 2016 among adults 18 years of age and older. While this is certainly great news, there are still many battles to be fought when it comes to smoking prevention, especially among people who are most vulnerable such as the youth. According to Heathline, about 8 percent of teens smoke cigarettes and about 21 percent use e-cigarettes or vape pens.
Vaping has often been touted as the “best option” for weaning people off of cigarettes and onto a substance that’s less harmful for your health. However, vaping has been linked to a number of illnesses commonly called E-cigarette or Vaping product use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI). What’s more, many people argue that vaping can be used as a “gateway drug” leading to the use of cigarettes and marijuana, especially in younger generations.
If you have COPD, you likely agree that any amount of drug use among American youth is too much. This is why COPD awareness month is the perfect time to mentor kids and teens about the dangers of cigarette smoking. If you know what it’s like to live with COPD and you’ve spent time researching and understanding your disease, this puts you in a great position to mentor younger generations and teach them about a disease they may know little or nothing about.
There are many ways to get involved with youth mentoring. First and foremost, you can simply speak with friends or family members and tell them your story of coping with COPD. Another thing you can do is support tobacco-free schools and programs. While most schools do promote a smoke-free lifestyle, the more engagement there is from parents and previous smokers, the easier it will be to create a truly smoke-free generation. In short, smoking trends have decreased significantly over the decades, and it’s mostly due to people like you who want to make a difference in someone’s life.
Create an Online COPD Group
In this day and age, it’s easier than ever before to stay connected to the outside world. With social media sites like Facebook and online COPD communities like COPD360Social made by the COPD Foundation, you can be connected with thousands of other COPD patients around the world in a matter of minutes. As long as you use discretion when you read something, this can be an incredibly powerful tool for helping you understand your disease and learn about possible treatment options that you may not have heard of otherwise.
If you can’t find the right community for you, however, COPD awareness month may be the perfect time to start your own online COPD community. This is a great idea if you have a close group of friends with COPD who want to stay connected despite the pandemic we’re currently facing. You’ll also have the option of keeping the group closed or open, allowing people all over the world to join in on your conversations about COPD. Keep in mind that your social media group doesn’t have to focus on COPD. You could also discuss things that keep your mind off of your disease and the current state of the world.
Reevaluate Your Short- and Long-Term Goals
Goal planning is extremely important if you live with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or any other type of respiratory impairment. Long-term goals focus on broad accomplishments such as smoking cessation, exercise goals, and diet goals, whereas short-term goals are like baby steps that you will use to achieve your long-term goals. Being faced with a COPD diagnosis often means drastically altering your goals as well as changing your outlook on life.
Since COPD awareness month comes around once a year, it’s the perfect time to reevaluate your goals and make sure that you’re on track to meet them. COPD plans are oftentimes confusing and multifaceted, so it’s best to assume that you can always make improvements to it. For example, if you’ve already drastically changed your diet think about other ways to benefit from your diet like eating smaller meals throughout the day, creating a meal plan so that you are more consistent with your diet, or contacting your doctor to see if there are any additional changes you can make. Ultimately, you don’t want to feel overwhelmed by your treatment plan, but you also want to always feel like you have something to work towards.
Participate in a Clinical Trial Program
A clinical trial is a research project aimed at determining the safety and efficacy of a particular medicine or medical procedure. Clinical trials are overseen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and they’re divided into four different phases. Phase one clinical trials typically test the safety of a drug or medical procedure and phase two clinical trials are focused on their efficacy. Phase three tests the drug in diverse populations and in different dosages or in combination with other drugs. Last but not least, phase four trials are aimed at monitoring drugs after they’ve already been approved for the market.
There are many reasons to participate in clinical trials this COPD awareness month, but the main reason is that it helps researchers learn more about the lungs and how to treat chronic illnesses like COPD. In order to learn more about COPD and how to treat it, researchers need people of all backgrounds to test their medication. By doing this, they are able to understand who might benefit from it in the future and who should avoid it due to negative side-effects.
Another reason you may want to participate in a clinical trial is because it affords you the opportunity to use COPD medication that is not available to most people. You’ll also be happy to know that most clinical trials are free to participate in and you may even get paid for the time you put into it. Before offering you any type of medication, clinical trial organizations are required to perform a medical examination to ensure there isn’t a high risk of harm, so you can rest assured that clinical trials are safe. To learn more about clinical trials in your area, visit clinicaltrials.gov.
Take Up a New Hobby
Hobbies are the meaningful tasks that we use to fill our day-to-day life. They’re separate from our life-long goals and aspirations, but they can also be a significant part of who we are and what our purpose is in life. A hobby can be something as simple as doing a crossword puzzle or something more complex and involved like scrapbooking or playing music. Unfortunately, many COPD patients define themselves by their disease rather than by the things that are important to them. This is why COPD awareness month is a great time to pick up a new hobby and discover something that’s important to you.
One of the biggest issues facing the COPD community is anxiety and depression, so it’s best to find a hobby that combats these issues. According to Healthline, one of the best ways to prevent depression is through exercise so if you can find a hobby that gets you up and moving, it’s likely to keep you happy and healthy. Since your COPD treatment plan already requires you to perform pulmonary rehabilitation it might be worth it to find a way to combine your hobbies and your exercise routine. Hobbies like reading or playing games are also great because they keep your mind engaged and prevent your thoughts from wondering.
Raise Awareness for Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency
It’s so easy to get caught up in conversations about smoking and air pollution and forget about the primary genetic cause of COPD: Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (AAT deficiency). Alpha-1 antitrypsin is a type of protein that’s created by the liver. Its job is to protect the lungs from inflammation. When this protein is distributed in low quantities it can make the patient more susceptible to lung damage from smoking, air pollution, and lung infection. Alpha-1 deficiency is known to contribute the pathogenesis of lung disease in people who have never smoked and have lived otherwise healthy lives.
Alpha-1 deficiency is genetic, meaning it’s inherited from the parents and it does not appear in offspring unless both parents have this trait. As a result, alpha-1 deficiency is a fairly rare condition, affecting about 100,000 people in the United States. Alpha-1 deficiency is more common in people of European descent and less common in people of Asian descent. If Alpha-1 deficiency results in the liver retaining this protein, it can also lead to the development of scar tissue in the liver.
While alpha-1 deficiency only causes about 3 percent of COPD cases, it’s still an important risk factor to know about. Many people with alpha-1 deficiency are undiagnosed and resulting lung damage is often misdiagnosed as asthma. So, the more aware the general population is of this rare disease, the more likely it can be treated before doing severe damage to the respiratory system. Read our blog post about alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency and share it with a friend if they would benefit from it.
Unfortunately, contrary to its prominence in the United States, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease suffers from severe underrepresentation and lack of awareness among the general population. This is due to several reasons. First and foremost, the majority of people who smoke never contract COPD. Rather, smokers are more likely to contract other illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, all of which can detract from the national conversation about chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Another reason there is a lack of awareness around COPD is that it shares the same awareness month as lung cancer. While it’s certainly important for COPD patients to understand their high risk of contracting lung cancer, it’s also important to remember that COPD is a silent disease in many ways since it is often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Helping people to understand that COPD and lung cancer are two different diseases may help shed more light on the unique problems associated with each.
Ultimately, COPD awareness month is a month that should be observed by everyone, regardless of whether or not you have COPD or you know someone who has COPD. Take some of the aforementioned tips into consideration as you plan for the weeks ahead and be sure to leave a comment below if you have any questions or concerns.