The Social Security Administration evaluates respiratory disorders that interfere with oxygen exchange, restrict the passage of air into the lungs or prevent air from moving out of the lungs. Obstruction occurs when a patient has difficulty exhaling as in the case of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, while genetic abnormalities or exposure to fumes from burning fuel can cause COPD, most cases in the United States result from smoking tobacco. COPD is a progressive disease with no cure, but management with treatment is possible.

Symptoms

The structures in the lungs have elasticity to extend when filled with air and then snap back into their original position during exhalation, which helps to remove the air completely from the lungs. Damage from exposure to cigarette smoke and other fumes can cause these structures to stretch out too far and lose their elasticity.

Common COPD symptoms include a chronic cough that produces thick sputum, or mucus. A patient may experience tightness of the chest or wheezing. People with COPD may find that they are frequently short of breath, especially with physical exertion.

Treatment

Breathing difficulties due to COPD can reduce the oxygen level in the blood. Supplemental oxygen therapy delivers it directly into the lungs in the necessary doses. Depending on the severity of COPD, the patient may require oxygen all the time or only during activities that provoke symptoms.

Doctors may prescribe medications such as oral steroids to decrease inflammation or bronchodilators to help open up the tubes in the lungs.

Quitting smoking, if the patient has not already done so, is an essential step in the treatment plan. It does not reverse the symptoms, but it can prevent them from getting worse.