October is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Awareness Month, and its milder forms, COPD—an umbrella term for lung diseases that include emphysema and chronic bronchitis—can seem like you’ve just got a cold, or a cough that won’t go away. COPD is most often linked to smoking, but can also be caused by inhaling other chemical gases and particulate matter that are lung irritants.  In COPD, permanent, irreversible lung damage is present by the time symptoms occur and a diagnosis is made.  While COPD can be progressive, steps can be taken to prevent COPD symptoms and lung function from worsening.
What are Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema?
Chronic bronchitis occurs when the lining of the bronchial tubes becomes inflamed, narrow, and produce too much mucus as a result of lung damage. 
In emphysema, the air sacs at the ends of the bronchioles (airways) in your lungs become stretched out and lose their elasticity to return to normal size. This can be because a substance has damaged the alveoli (air sacs), causing them to be destroyed, narrowed or stretched, collapsed, or over-inflated—the damage causes “air trapping”, meaning air cannot be exhaled properly.  The alveoli are responsible for exchanging exhaled carbon-dioxide for oxygen from the air we breathe, causing low oxygen to develop in the blood when they are damaged.
What are the symptoms of COPD?
For chronic bronchitis specifically, the first symptom is usually a cough that produces mucus (called sputum) and lasts for at least three months or longer, and recurs for 2 consecutive years, or has lasted a year or longer.  Chronic cough also occurs in emphysema. 
Other COPD symptoms of both chronic bronchitis and emphysema include shortness of breath, especially when doing physical activities, wheezing and chest tightness, frequent respiratory infections, lack of energy, swollen feet, ankles or legs, and throat clearing due to mucus in the lungs.  Respiratory infections are also frequent.  In later stages of COPD, unintended weight loss and loss of appetite can occur as your body has to work harder to breathe. [1, 2]
While lung symptoms are chronic in COPD, exacerbations—worsening of symptoms—occur where symptoms worsen from the person’s baseline. Exacerbations last for several days and can require extra treatment. 
How is COPD treated?
A variety of COPD medications are available to help you breathe easier—these are usually used for both Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis, as well as other lung diseases. In exacerbations, extra anti-inflammatory steroids called corticosteroids may be used to regain control of COPD symptoms. In some cases where the lungs have significant damage, supplemental oxygen may be used either during activity only or all the time to prevent oxygen levels from dropping.
If you have an unexplained, persistent cough, see your doctor. It could be COPD, and the sooner you are diagnosed and treated the earlier you can feel better and prevent future damage from occurring. While it is difficult to quit, smoking speeds up lung damage, and quitting can help you gain control of your COPD.
Why do I need medical ID for COPD?
COPD exacerbations can be mild and treatable at home following your doctors instructions, but they can also require emergency treatment. If you have a more severe COPD exacerbation, you may have difficulty explaining your symptoms, history and needs to doctors. Chronic Bronchitis medical ID or Emphysema medical jewelry can help doctors treat you more quickly when you are having trouble breathing, as they will know you are already diagnosed with COPD and they are dealing with a known problem.
My IDentity Doctor has a variety of medical ID bracelets and necklaces that can help you stay safe with COPD. If you use a portable oxygen concentrator or oxygen tanks, our key chains can also ensure your medical equipment is easily identified.