COPD Awareness Month Underway

SALISBURY – Imagine running around the block while breathing through a straw. This is what a patient diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) feels like after a simple walk to the mailbox.

During COPD Awareness Month this November, Peninsula Home Care is educating and encouraging patients and caregivers to recognize the signs and symptoms of COPD. More than 12 million people have been diagnosed with COPD and an additional 12 million likely have the disease and don’t even know it.

"COPD is a condition that emergency responders in Wicomico County treat on a daily basis,” said Andrew Naumann, chairman, Wicomico County Emergency Medical Services Committee. “The peculiar thing about this condition is that, unlike other conditions that we see such as traumatic injuries, COPD can be appropriately managed so that the patient never needs the services of emergency responders. As with all chronic conditions, the goal is to reduce risk factors and appropriately manage the condition.”

COPD refers to a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it increasingly difficult to breathe including emphysema, which occurs when the walls of tiny air sacs of the lungs (called alveoli) become inflamed, which can destroy the walls and allows small airways to collapse when a person exhales, causing less air flow out of the lungs; chronic bronchitis, characterized by an ongoing cough, causes inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes; and chronic asthmatic bronchitis or bronchial asthma that is accompanied by contractions of muscle fibers in the lining of the airways is also at times classified as COPD.  

COPD is also one of the top diagnoses made by Peninsula Home Care nurses in the field. Generally it is identified with one or more of the following risk factors: shortness of breath, chronic cough or trouble performing simple daily tasks like climbing stairs, grocery shopping, or laundry; over age 40 and currently smoke or used to smoke; have worked or lived around chemicals or fumes; and have certain genetic conditions

During “flu season” (October through April, with the peak usually January through March,) colder temperatures can present greater challenges and problems for patients with COPD. Something as simple as walking in a brisk wind can trigger fatigue and make it more difficult for an individual to catch their breath.

“We emphasize the importance of getting a flu shot to our COPD patients,” said Therese Ganster, branch director, Peninsula Home Care. “We also try to teach common sense approaches to managing COPD, such as wrapping a scarf around the mouth and nose when a patient is outside. This will warm the air before it enters the lungs which can help prevent symptoms.”

Ganster counsels that planning is critical for COPD sufferers. Carrying a rescue inhaler and a prescription for oxygen, planning stops on a walk for rest and warmth, and walking or traveling with a friend are a few important steps for managing the condition.

Peninsula Home Care encourages patients to be aware of their pulmonary function test results. There is a simple breathing test used to diagnose COPD called the spirometry test. It is performed with a hand-held device called a spirometer and can easily be used by patients with the assistance of a medical professional.

The three key measurements that are critical in the interpretation of spirometry results are:

1.    Forced Vital Capacity (FVC): This is a measurement of lung size (in liters) and represents the volume of air in the lungs that can be exhaled following a deep inhalation.

2.    Forced Expiratory Volume-One Second (FEV1): This is a measurement of how much air can be exhaled in one second following a deep inhalation.

3.    FEV1/ FVC Ratio: This number represents the percent of the lung size (FVC) that can be exhaled in one second. For example, if the FEV1 is 4 and the FVC is 5, then the FEV1/ FVC ratio would be 4/5 or 80%. This means the individual can breathe out 80% of the inhaled air in the lungs in one second.

The three spirometry measurements for a given individual are compared to reference values. The reference value is based on healthy individuals with normal lung function and it tells the doctor the values that would be expected for someone of the same sex, age and height.

For more information on COPD visit

Peninsula Home Care provides health care services, resources and “real world” therapy in the home. The home health staff provides and coordinates a plan of care and/or therapy that a patient’s doctor orders to help maintain the patient’s physical, mental and social well-being.  Services include nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology and access to medical social workers and home health aides. 

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.