Living with the chronic health condition no one is talking about

It’s the second leading cause of avoidable hospital admissions, affects one in five over 60s and is as debilitating as

It’s the second leading cause of avoidable hospital admissions, affects one in five over 60s and is as debilitating as diabetes or mobility issues. But this condition receives little to no attention or funding.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the collective term for a number of lung diseases that prevent proper breathing, the most common forms of the disease are emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Although as many as 30 per cent older Australians may suffer from COPD, according to the Lung Foundation, half of these people don’t even know it. Symptoms include breathlessness, wheezing, coughing, fatigue, a blueish tinge to the skin, and a susceptibility to chest infections.

For those who live with COPD, they are constantly aware of the condition and how it affects their life. Sufferers may cut back on physical activities due to the uncomfortable feelings of breathlessness they experience when they exercise. As the condition worsens, this can extend to almost any exertion, making simple daily activities like showering, dressing or making a cup of tea, become almost impossible. Depression and anxiety often affect those with COPD.

Starts at 60 community member Fran Spears says, “I was diagnosed with mild chronic bronchitis in 2009. I used to smoke but had not had a cigarette for nine years before that. They say that they cannot determine for sure if it was just my smoking that caused this.

“The most frustrating part for me is that every aspect of your life is affected by how you breathe yet this disease is swept under the carpet so often. There is a stigma attached to it. You have to be nearly dead to be on the waiting list for a new lung but I struggle every day,” says Fran.

While smoking is the most significant risk factor, including passive smoking, particularly in the infant phase when lungs are developing, up to 20 per cent of sufferers never smoked cigarettes.

Women are more likely to suffer the condition and poorly handled asthma can develop into COPD. The Lung Foundation Australia estimates that more han 1.45 million Australians have some form of COPD and 750,000 of these have symptoms that affect their daily lives.

Fran says, “I have to make sure I get in all the exercise I can manage every day to keep my muscles in as good a condition as I can or my lungs will deteriorate quickly. If I get a cold it usually develops into a chest infection and pneumonia is always a worry.

“I have two inhalers I take every day and I have medication on hand for emergencies such as a cough I cant shake. It is hard to exercise and a lot of people give up but then that is the only thing that has be to shown slow down the disease.

“Living with COPD is an every day struggle which I believe is not taken seriously enough. I am only 62 and want the opportunity to live a much longer life, breathing a little easier.

“The hardest part of this disease is nobody understands that, even if you have it in its mildest form, even small things like walking the dog or taking a shower can be a chore. Dont get me wrong, I am lucky. With any luck I wont get worse quickly because I exercise and there are literally thousands worse off than me. But we need help now and need it recognised for what it is  – a life threatening disease that so far can’t be cured.”

For more information, or if you have concerns about your own health, visit your GP.

Do you or does someone you love suffer COPD? Could you have this condition without realising it? Share your stories and experiences.

  1. As an ex smoker I’m now down to 65% lung capacity – and I gave up 31 years ago. Anyone who still smokes needs their head read.

  2. Thanks for highlighting it, Fran. I started to learn about COPD (emphysema) early in 2001 when my wife was diagnosed with it following the first of her strokes. In her case, it could be sheeted home to a lifelong smoking habit (which, in itself, is really an illness, too. Tobacco companies have still never answered the questions relating to sweeping their knowledge of the addictive effects of nicotine under the carpet). In my wife’s case, it required full time supplementary oxygen and a vast number of medications, including two different bronchodilators and two forms of corticosteroids. I will think of you – and extend my support – in understanding exactly what you have and how it effects you. Fight, lass!

    • So sorry about your wife John. It is a terrible thing. My father smoked long before I was born so I had the passive smoking also. I have given up 15 years next month. Symptons, as in my case can sometimes not show up till years after you give up smoking.

  3. Hopefully you can keep your fitness up for a very long time, know a few people with it, one who never smoked.

  4. well written Fran, I hope this will help other suffers of COPD, I know it has been a struggle for you but you are doing all that is humanly possible to help yourself..never give up

  5. My mother lived with us the last 5 years of her life after my dad died . She had emphysema and had never ever smoked .How often my husband and I had to race her into Hospital ,we lived about 20 mins from the Hosp ,I sat in the back holding her up and trying to help as best I could .It is awful not only for her but for us seeing her trying to get her breath .Its a terrible disease , my sympathy goes out to anyone who has this disease.

  6. I have a sister in law with Emphysema. Her husband died with Emphysema 7 years ago and she was diagnosed 5 years ago. Her husband smoked until he no longer had the lung capacity to inhale. We are watching his wife go the same way and she has never smoked. Although she did breathe in his secondary smoke for 37 years. It is a horrible disease.

  7. Keep fighting Fran, you a good example to many and I admire and respect your diligence at keeping the exercise up. There must be days when you feel you can’t be bothered but never give up

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