According to DRIVE4COPD, an initiative lead by the COPD Foundation, as many as 24 million Americans may have COPD (or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), but approximately half don’t know it and remain undiagnosed. For those who are diagnosed, getting started with COPD treatment can be downright confusing and overwhelming. After all, you may have never heard of COPD before.
To help you get a better grasp on understanding COPD, here is a glossary of 15 of the most commonly used COPD terms you’ll hear from your doctor and others with COPD from the Cleveland Clinic.
- COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease): COPD is a general term for several lung diseases, including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic asthma. COPD adds to the work of the heart, since the amount of oxygen that goes to the blood may be reduced.
- Chronic Bronchitis: Irritation and inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes. The irritation causes coughing and excess amounts of mucus in the airways, which can lead to difficulty breathing. Bronchitis is considered chronic when the person has a productive cough (coughs up mucus) and shortness of breath that lasts at least three months each year for at least two years in a row.
- Emphysema: The destruction or breakdown of the walls of thin-walled, small sacs (alveoli) located at the end of the air passages (bronchial tubes). The damaged sacs are not able to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide between the lungs and the blood. The smallest branches of the airways in the lungs (called bronchioles) lose their elasticity and collapse during exhalation, trapping air in the lungs. The trapped air keeps fresh air and oxygen from entering the lungs.
- Hyperventilation: Excessive rate and depth of breathing. Those with COPD may hyperventilate during a COPD spell.
- Inflammation: A response in the body that may include swelling and redness.
- Irritant: Substance that does not cause an allergic reaction but can cause a reaction in the airways or damage the lungs. Common irritants include smoke, air pollution, paint fumes and scented products like candles, perfumes and air fresheners.
- Mucus: A material produced by glands in the airways, nose, sinuses and elsewhere in the body. Mucus cleans and protects certain parts of the body such as the lungs. A common COPD symptom is coughing up mucus. Mucus is also referred to as sputum or phlegm.
- Nasal Cannula: A lightweight plastic tube with two hollow prongs that fit just inside the nose. Nasal cannulas are used to deliver oxygen from your oxygen source.
- Oxygen Concentrator: An electric oxygen delivery system that can be stationary or portable. The concentrator extracts some of the air from the environment and separates the oxygen from other gases in the air. Oxygen is then delivered to you through a nasal cannula. An oxygen concentrator may be recommended if you require supplemental oxygen during the day or while sleeping.
- Respiratory Failure: The sudden inability of the lungs to provide normal oxygen delivery or normal carbon dioxide removal.
- Respiratory Therapist: A health care professional who specializes in assessment, treatment and education for people with lung diseases.
- Pulmonary Rehabilitation: A program that can help you learn how to breathe easier and improve your quality of life. It includes treatment, exercise training, education and counseling.
- Sleep Apnea: A sleep disorder in which a person's breathing stops in intervals that may last from 10 seconds to a minute or longer. When an apneic event occurs, air exchange may be impaired.
- Trachea: The main airway (windpipe) supplying air to both lungs.
- Wheezing: The high-pitched whistling sound of air entering or leaving narrowed airways. Like coughing up mucus, wheezing is a common symptom of COPD.
For even more help understanding COPD, download the free guide “COPD 101” here.