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and Breathing
ast January, as my wife and I were
beginning our third week of suf-
fering from influenza experienc-
ing terrible coughing, some shortness
of breath and chest pain, I thought
about how lucky we were that there
was an end in sight. Many persons
our age are suffering from shortness
of breath and other symptoms of
chronic lung conditions that are not
self-limiting. Fortunately, there are
treatments available that can make
breathing easier for many of these
One of the most common lung condi-
tions affecting seniors is
chronic ob-
structive pulmonary disease (COPD)
characterized by cough, shortness of
breath and sputum production. The
term includes diagnoses of chronic
bronchitis and emphysema. This
condition is almost always caused by
many years of cigarette smoking and,
as the number of smokers declines –
especially with seniors – the incidence
is declining as well. Other factors re-
sulting in COPD include occupational
exposure to airborne contaminants,
frequent childhood lung infections
and possibly exposure to second-hand
smoke. The diagnosis of this condition
is reached from the symptoms, the
history of many years of smoking
and by means of a simple office test,
spirometry, which measures the speed
of air transfer in and out of the lungs.
Fortunately, there are a number of
treatments which can lessen the
symptoms, even though there is no
cure. Persons affected should do
everything possible to improve their
overall health including healthy eating,
by Robert MacMillan MD