Most of us might take breathing for granted, but it's not so effortless for everyone. Millions of people have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and it makes breathing hard all day everyday.
Early symptoms might not be as noticeable, but by the time most people are diagnosed, they've lost half or more of their lung function.
Jean Wischow says she enjoyed every cigarette she ever smoked. She's paying the price now though, as she has needs her oxygen tank around the clock. It makes things like moving around and going upstairs more difficult.
"I got a little puffed doing that but I just thought that was normal," she said.
"Many people go undiagnosed," explained Janel Glass, Great Plains Rehabilitation respiratory therapist. "Some people chalk it up to old age setting in or I'm just getting older, so it's important to know your risk factors such as the second hand smoke exposure or smoking itself."
Wischow even didn't know she had COPD until she went in for a separate surgery and doctors noticed her blood oxygen levels were too low. Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and chest tightness, which make getting through the day a challenge.
"Daily living activities because of the shortness of breath. Some people find it hard to even eat or get dressed," added Glass. "Things you and I would take for granted would be severely diminished for those with COPD.
COPD doesn't get better; it can only be managed to prevent it from worsening. Wischow began with oxygen only at night, but now she needs it all throughout the day, along with three inhaler treatments and pulmonary rehab.
"There are things that I stay away from. Especially smells bother me," said Wischow. "I think probably the weather sometimes bothers me. So you sort of watch those things."
Wischow says she stays positive and active despite her condition. By treating and paying attention to her respiratory needs, she still enjoys her favorite activities and even traveling.
Log on to the North Dakota Society for Respiratory Care Web site to answer five questions on your own breathing. You could learn more about your health, and be entered to win a NASCAR weekend trip.
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