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  • Writer's pictureNathalia Zambakari

Clearing the air to managechronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Updated: May 16, 2023

At Desert Haven Home Care and Apollo Residential Assisted Living, we have had the privilege of providing expert managed care designed to identify and treat the severe health challenges posed by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, best-known by its acronym, COPD. As our staff and healthcare practitioners work to continue to provide our residents with best-quality care, service and advocacy, we are sharing with you through our websites these timely and topical insights into issues that impact our elderly loved ones. And, while COPD is a serious and debilitating health issue, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risks associated with the disease and to slow its progress, which are discussed below.

Clearing the air to managechronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

What is COPD?

Mayo Clinic describes COPD as a persistent, long-lasting, chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. Symptoms include wheezing and breathing difficulty, steady coughing, and mucus production. The known leading cause of COPD is cigarette smoke. Other possible causes include long-term exposure to particulate matter (dust, dirt, smog) and other irritants like gases and chemicals. Importantly, the risk of many other diseases increases along with COPD, such as lung cancer and heart diseases.

The two types of COPD are:

  • Chronic bronchitis

  • Emphysema

These two problems are frequently present at the same time and can differ considerably among COPD patients.

What causes COPD?

The following are the common causes of COPD:

  • The leading cause of COPD is long-term exposure to lung irritants that are harmful to the lungs. Smoke from tobacco (cigarette smoke, pipe smoke, cigar smoke) inhaled into your lungs is the most common irritant responsible for COPD.

  • COPD can be exacerbated by inhaling second-hand smoke, smoke inhaled from other people's cigarettes. Other irritants include air pollution, heavy dust and chemical fumes in the environment, including industrial, agricultural and even workplace settings.

  • A genetic disorder known as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency may have a role in the development of COPD in certain people. The protein alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT), produced in the liver, is found in low amounts in the blood of people who have this illness. If you are exposed to smoking or other lung irritants, having a low amount of the AAT protein can cause respiratory problems like COPD. The disease can rapidly progress if you have a deficiency of alpha-1 antitrypsin and smoke.

  • COPD can arise in persons who have asthma. Asthma is a lung condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways. Asthma treatment can generally cure the inflammation and constriction that develops.

COPD Risk Factors

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD. COPD negatively impacts up to 75 percent of those who smoke or have smoked. If you smoke and have a family history of COPD, your chances of suffering from COPD in the future increase.

As noted above, COPD is also linked to chronic exposure to various lung irritants. Dust from the surroundings, air pollution, chemical fumes, and secondhand smoke, which is smoke in the air from other people smoking, are all types of lung irritants.

COPD symptoms most typically first appear in patients older than 40 years. COPD can also affect persons under the age of 40, but it happens rarely. It may occur in a younger person when a predisposed medical condition, such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which is passed from parent to child, exists.

Symptoms of COPD

Initially, people may not experience any of the symptoms related to COPD. However, as the disease progresses, symptoms become apparent and exaggerated. Symptoms include:

  • Chest tightness

  • Mucus production

  • Frequent coughing with a lot of mucus

  • Wheezing sound while breathing

Treatment of COPD

There are many, many stories of people living with COPD, and researchers are working constantly on new therapies to treat symptoms, like shortness of breath, lung inflammation and chronic cough. Some of these treatments are already available, while others are still being tested.

  • After proper evaluation of the condition, doctors suggest the appropriate treatment of COPD from a variety of available options.

  • The goal of the treatment is to limit and manage the severity of the symptoms, and to increase tolerance.

The Desert Haven and Apollo communities’ approach with residents suffering from the symptoms of COPD is different for its inclusion of patient advocacy – recognized and practiced as a necessary ingredient in their treatment. Working closely with medical professionals and healthcare agencies, the managed-care staff and supervisory professionals on site at each location ensure tailored follow-through, personalized attention to patients’ recommended programs and active support and leadership in the shepherding of oft-overlooked details and logistical obstacles on behalf of residents.

The following are some of the evidence-based treatment options doctors choose for the treatment of COPD:

  • Quitting smoking is the first preventive measure to reduce the symptoms and severity of the disease.

  • Removing or limiting exposure to air pollutants and tobacco smoke at work and at home.

  • Providing specialized treatment programs designed to address pulmonary rehabilitation. Among such programs are those that teach COPD management skills to help patients live a better life. Plans that educate individuals on how to breathe properly and save physical energy, as well as nutrition and exercise recommendations, may be included in COPD programs.

  • Prescribing vaccines to fight flu and pneumococcal diseases, which cause infection and inflammation in the chest cavity, including the heart and lungs.

  • Prescribing effective medical tools that deliver supplemental oxygen: In certain cases, patients require a portable oxygen tank to maintain their blood oxygen levels.

  • Prescribing proven medication: Symptoms like wheezing and coughing can be treated by using medicines that help manage the severity of COPD symptoms.

The following medicines can be used for COPD.

  • Bronchodilators are medications that help to relax the muscles that surround your airways. This aids in the opening of airways and facilitates breathing. Inhalers are used to administer most bronchodilators. The inhaler may also contain medicines to alleviate inflammation in more difficult situations.

  • As noted above, vaccines against the flu and pneumococcal pneumonia are recognized COPD treatments, because people with the disease are more likely to develop severe complications from these conditions.

  • Antibiotics are often prescribed in cases where viral or bacterial lung infections are evident.

"(COPD) does not stop me from living my life. I exercise every day ... I am a nature photographer, reader, cross stitcher and enjoy watching sports and an occasional glass of red wine!"

-Ken W.,

Living with COPD

As leaders in assisted living managed care, Desert Haven Home Care and Apollo Residential Assisted Living understand the challenges faced by sufferers of the disease are both physical and emotional. Living with COPD may often mean it isn’t as easy to do things you once did before but, with the proper support from family, caregivers and your doctor, you can make lifestyle changes and even enhance your life while managing its progress.

Among evidence-based COPD management programs that have proven to positively impact the treatment of COPD are personal-management checklists, dietary changes, appropriate exercise, honest conversations with medical professionals, and participation in support groups.

  • Checklists. This can include a list of your medications and when to take them. Take note of your condition at the outset and monitor your physical and emotional feelings on a regular basis to chart your management of the disease. Work with family and health professionals to customize your checklist.

  • Diet. The American Lung Association notes that the right mix of nutrients in your diet can help you breathe easier. Among recommended nutritional choices are complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain bread and pasta, fresh fruit and vegetables. Avoid simple carbohydrates such as table sugar, candy, cake and soft drinks.

  • Exercise. Even with COPD, exercise is important. Moderate exercise can improve your body’s use of oxygen, energy levels, fitness, sleep and even shortness of breath. Check with your caregiver or doctor to determine what exercise regimen is best for you; there is one!

  • Talk with your doctor. Open, honest conversations with your family, your caregivers, your doctor should include both physical and emotional concerns, questions about your future and new care options.

  • Embrace support. Your family, those who care for you and others who share COPD symptoms can help you manage, anticipate, understand and face the many ups and downs of COPD. For more information about support opportunities, visit the American Lung Association website,


The material presented on this blog does not constitute medical advice. We encourage you to consult your primary care physician. The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always consult your personal physician for specific medical advice. If you or your loved one is considering the benefits of quality assisted living, please contact us at 602-670-9326, or email us at

About the Authors

Dr. Christopher Zambakari, B.S., MBA, M.I.S., LP.D.

Dr. Zambakari is the owner and operator of Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix and Apollo Assisted Living in Glendale. A recognized leader in managed-care assisted living advocacy on behalf of the elderly, Zambakari provides experienced direction and oversight to ensure the care facilities provide the highest levels of customized care, administered by respectful licensed medical and caregiving professionals.

Nathalia Zambakari, Board Certified AGACNP-BC

Nathalia Zambakari is a board-certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and a licensed medical professional responsible for short-term care patients suffering from severe conditions. As part of the Desert Haven/Apollo care team, she reviews the medical records of incoming residents, helping the professional staff to manage patient regimens. She leads evidence-based caregiver education to ensure the best care possible for the Desert Haven and Apollo residential communities’ residents.


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