COVID-19 is a serious, and deadly, respiratory illness that the world has been grappling with for the past year. In addition to this virus, there are other certain respiratory related illnesses that are common in the winter months, such as colds and flus, along with other chronic respiratory diseases affecting a large number of Canadians – including things like asthma, COPD (also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, and more.

Asthma

Currently, an estimated 3 million Canadians are living with asthma. Asthma is a condition that causes the airways to swell and become narrow, making it difficult to breathe – along with other symptoms such as wheezing upon exhaling, coughing, and pain or tightness of the chest.

There are certain things that can trigger an asthma attack, such as pollen and pet dander (known as allergy-induced asthma), chemicals such as fumes, gases or dust (known as occupational asthma), or can even be induced by exercise (particularly if you are over-exerting yourself.) There are also certain risk factors that can increase your chances of developing asthma, such as having a relative with the condition, being a smoker (or exposure to second-hand smoke), and being overweight.

If you find that you are short of breath frequently, or have frequent coughing or wheezing spells, then you should see a doctor to get a definitive diagnosis. If it is suspected you have asthma, your doctor will prescribe a medication, like short-acting beta agonists (to provide quick relief of symptoms), or an inhaled corticosteroid. If you are prescribed an inhaled corticosteroid, it’s important to note that it may take several weeks of use before you start to notice its benefit. In some cases, oral corticosteroids may also be prescribed.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is a condition that describes a group of lung conditions related to difficulty breathing, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The main cause attributed to COPD is tobacco use. It can, however, also be diagnosed in people who are non-smokers (for example, those who have been exposed to second-hand smoke, or exposure to environmental fumes.)

Symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing, chronic cough (that may sometimes produce mucus), decreased energy levels, weight loss, swelling of the ankles, legs or feet, as well as an increase in respiratory infections.

While COPD is considered a progressive disease, it can be managed with the right treatment, which includes bronchodilators, inhaled corticosteroids – or a combination of both. In severe cases, someone with COPD may require supplemental oxygen, and may also benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation programs to help with things like exercise training.

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a disorder that is inherited and progressive. It is known to cause persistent infections of the lungs and can significantly limit one’s ability to breathe over time. It can also cause severe damage to the lungs and other organs in the body. Currently, the average life-span of someone with cystic fibrosis is between the age of 44 and 50.

Signs and symptoms associated with cystic fibrosis include a persistent cough (that produces thick mucus), wheezing, frequent lung infections, recurrent sinusitis, and intolerance to exercise. There are also digestive-related symptoms associated with CF, such as chronic constipation as well as intestinal blockage. As CF progresses, there can also be complications that develop over time, such as hemoptysis (coughing up blood), respiratory failure. Anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of adults diagnosed with cystic fibrosis are also diagnosed with diabetes, in addition to the development of liver disease, while men and women may also have fertility issues.

Because there is no cure for cystic fibrosis, the goal of treatment is shifted towards preventing infections, removing and loosening mucus from the lungs, preventing intestinal blockage from occurring, as well as ensuring the patient has adequate nutrition.