The threat of COVID-19, including how it relates to end-of-life-care, is also drawing attention to other health conditions involving the pulmonary and respiratory systems, which many residents of Manchester and elsewhere are trying to deal with.
For instance, one condition is called pulmonary fibrosis, which is a lung disease where lung tissue becomes scarred, thicker, and damaged. It’s something that affects 1 in 200 adults over age 65. The Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation has announced that about 50,000 new cases are diagnoses each year, and about 200,000 individuals are currently living with the condition.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Care has worked with clients who have this disease and are familiar with how reduced lung strength can make it difficult for them to breathe. The scarring is usually permanent, but there are some treatment options and medications available to help, and we encourage everyone to check into them to see if they are able to provide some relief and improve quality of life. Or they can learn how to live with it, which can be challenging, especially when trying to protect themselves from COVID and other conditions that can affect breathing and lung performance.
Although research continues to look into causes and prevention of COVID, some cases have shown that people with pre-existing conditions like pulmonary fibrosis aren’t any more likely to be infected by COVID than anyone else, unless they may have a weaker immune system if they’re currently receiving therapy. However, the pre-existing damage to their lungs from pulmonary fibrosis could mean that if they do contract COVID, they could potentially have more serious symptoms.
So that’s why it’s vital that anyone with these types of lung conditions should consider themselves high-risk for COVID or similar infections and take all required safety precautions, including social distancing themselves, wearing a mask when needed or required, practicing good hygiene, or limiting access to people. (There is a caveat with the mask recommendation – those with poor lung capacity may find breathing through some types of cloth masks difficult and could claim that that they have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing them – talk to your provider about possible options for you, such as a respirator).
It’s also appropriate to learn as much as you can about pulmonary fibrosis as well since if managed well, you can live a full life. If managed poorly, it could lead to more difficult situations, including pain, fatigue, and maybe even the need for a ventilator to assist the function of your lungs.
According to the Mayo Clinic, people with pulmonary fibrosis may experience a variety of symptoms related to the actual damage or the body’s response to it.
This could include fatigue and shortness of breath, along with a dry cough, aching joints and muscles, and unexplained weight loss. In some cases, the tips of the toes and fingers will slightly widen.
Everyone with this condition may experience different symptoms and each symptom has different severity. In some cases, symptoms may increase in duration or sensitivity over time. This could be something that gradually changes over months or years. Or it could be a faster, more critical situation where breathing may be impacted quickly that may require fast medical intervention.
In minor cases, the patient can be stabilized with medication and observation but in especially severe cases, they may need the services of a ventilator, or the patient may need to be placed on a transplant waiting list for a donor lung or lungs.
Another unknown, in some cases, is how it was caused.
Some causes of scarring are fairly easy to determine, like chemical burns from an industrial accident or inhaling something caustic or toxic especially over a long period of time. Examples can include silica dust, asbestos fibers, grain dust, or animal droppings.
Some vaping materials were revealed to cause damage. Exposure to high levels of radiation or physical trauma can also cause scarring. Some medications for other conditions, such as heart medication, some antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and cancer-fighting chemotherapy chemicals, also may cause this type of damage as a side effect.
Previous lung health conditions, such as pneumonia, also could cause longer-term damage. Those who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease may be more likely to get this.
It’s also a condition that might be genetic, so if you have it in your family line it might increase your risk factor. Other risk factors can include gender and age (men over age 50 are more prone)
Or in some cases, the patient may feel the pain and discomfort, such as difficulty breathing but not have a clear why, and their health provider may not have known easier. There’s even a term for this: idiopathy pulmonary fibrosis.
Upcoming opportunity for awareness
September is a perfect time for you to learn more, whether you have pulmonary fibrosis or someone close to you does and you want to know how to provide care. It has been designated as Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness Month, could be a useful opportunity to explore local and national resources. The official event site invites people to spread the word via social media, see if they can organize something in their community, or even consider making a donation for ongoing research.