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Misconceptions About Living with a Chronic Lung Disease

IFA Guest Blogger: Ms Morgan Dixon

A chronic lung disease diagnosis can be frightening, and the misconceptions about living with chronic lung disease can make that fear worse, particularly for older people. However, with continued research on chronic lung disease and various treatments, the fact is that people are able to manage their disease and often live normally. Though chronic lung disease does affect older people in greater proportion than it does younger people, it is possible to live a full and active life, no matter your age at diagnosis.

Let’s demystify some common misconceptions about living with chronic lung disease, and talk about how to continue your normal daily activities even with chronic lung disease symptoms.

Misconception: You cannot live a normal life after being diagnosed with chronic lung disease.
Truth: With treatment and early detection, your disease can be well managed and you can continue living a full and active life. Often, when people are diagnosed with chronic lung disease, they believe they will be relegated to inactivity in order to fend off breathlessness. Older people are often most worried, believing the diagnosis will end their freedom and independence, and ultimately shorten their life span. In reality, with proper treatment and small adjustments, most people are able to continue their regular daily activities for quite some time. This is especially true with people in the earlier stages of chronic lung disease, which is why early detection is essential. The earlier your disease is detected, the sooner you can begin treating the symptoms and slowing the disease’s progression.

Misconception: Only older people are diagnosed with chronic lung disease.
While chronic lung disease is more common in people over the age of 40, younger people in higher-risk groups can develop chronic lung disease.

Chronic lung disease has many risk factors, and those risk factors can contribute to earlier development of chronic lung disease, even in younger people. While older people may be at a higher risk of chronic lung disease diagnosis, aging does not cause chronic lung disease. Rather, it is the repeated exposure to lung irritants that typically puts older people at a higher risk of developing chronic lung disease.

Misconception: Chronic lung disease only occurs in smokers.
While smoking dramatically increases the risk of developing chronic lung disease, nonsmokers can also be diagnosed.

The majority of people diagnosed with chronic lung disease are, or have been, smokers. However, it is not the only cause. Repeated exposure to lung irritants like air pollution, toxic fumes or toxic dust at work or at home can cause chronic lung disease, too. Genetic conditions like cystic fibrosis, lung cancer and pulmonary hypertension are also a cause. Since smoking is the most common cause, particularly for older people, it is important not to smoke, or to quit smoking as soon as possible to preserve your lung function and health. Quitting smoking does not eliminate your chance of developing chronic lung disease, nor will it cure chronic lung disease. Once smoking damages your lungs, that damage cannot be reversed. However, quitting helps minimize further damage and allows treatments to work more effectively. Be aware that secondhand smoke is a significant lung irritant as well, so avoiding all tobacco smoke is critical to keeping your lungs as healthy as possible.

Misconception: Chronic lung disease is untreatable.
While there is no cure for most chronic lung diseases, all types of chronic lung disease can be treated to help ease symptoms and make breathing easier.

While the majority of chronic lung diseases cannot be cured, all types can be treated, regardless of age or the stage of the disease. If you are diagnosed with chronic lung disease, talk to your doctor about the best course of treatment for you. In most cases, treatment will include some of the following:

  • Avoiding exposure to lung irritants, including smoking cessation if you smoke
  • Changes in diet
  • Exercise to improve strength and endurance
  • Medication to treat symptoms and slow progression of your disease
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
  • Surgery in rare cases, like with lung cancer or pulmonary hypertension
  • Vaccinations, including education about why vaccinations are essential preventative medicine for older people with chronic lung disease

Misconception: Older people always experience more severe chronic lung disease symptoms.
While symptoms usually progress with age, some studies show that older adults show less limitation than younger people with similar lung function impairment.

Being diagnosed with chronic lung disease at an older age does not automatically mean that symptoms will be more pronounced than those of a younger patient. In fact, one study indicates that older patients actually perceive less of an impact on their daily activities than younger patients. This study found that older adult study participants were less likely to report that their chronic lung disease significantly impacted their activities, and that they were less likely to describe their health status as fair or poor when compared with younger study participants. Moreover, older adult participants with chronic lung disease had better lung function when compared with younger adult participants, with higher test results for ventilator capacity and exercise capacity. These results may be due in part to different perceptions about limitations, more time to adapt to chronic lung disease over time and more positive attitudes about quality of life and overall health. Still, older adults consistently reported less impairment and limitation. So, while older people may recover more slowly from illness and may be more likely to develop a chronic lung disease, they may still experience less impact on their lives overall than a younger person. As such, if you are diagnosed when you are older, do not lose hope. You might be surprised by your resilience.

Misconception: Treating chronic lung disease requires carrying around unwieldy oxygen tanks for the rest of your life.
While oxygen therapy is one common method of treating lung disease, it can be delivered in a number of different ways.

Oxygen is often prescribed to help chronic lung disease patients breathe better and get necessary oxygen. However, while traditional compressed oxygen tanks are still used, they are not the only oxygen delivery system available. Compressed oxygen, liquid oxygen and oxygen concentrators can all help you treat your chronic lung disease symptoms, including shortness of breath, chronic cough, wheezing and chest tightness. Portable oxygen concentrators are particularly compact and lightweight, making them convenient and easy to carry. Because portable oxygen concentrators require no refills and only need the power to provide an endless supply of oxygen, they are an ideal choice for people who are worried that oxygen therapy might get in the way of their daily activities. In fact, one of the greatest portable oxygen concentrator benefits is that it makes many activities easier. Additionally, oxygen therapy may not be forever for you. It is temporary for some people, providing necessary relief until symptoms become manageable again.

These misconceptions could keep you from pursuing life-changing treatments—do not let them. A chronic lung disease diagnosis does not have to mean the end of a normal life. Find out more about how to maintain your quality of life while living with your chronic lung disease by talking to your doctor and contacting Inogen for more information about oxygen therapy supplies.


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