Third Age: ‘I thought I just had asthma’

IRELAND has one of the highest death rates in Europe from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

If you are worried about your breathing then why not avail of a free test today.

Early diagnosis of this preventable lung condition, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is essential and to mark World COPD Day a special screening bus has been travelling the country offering free tests.

Screening for COPD will be taking place this morning in Wilton Shopping Centre, Cork, between 9am and 12.30pm.

Currently COPD affects more than 444,000 people in Ireland.

Bernard ‘Bones’ O Sullivan, 65, is the president of Cork COPD Support group, and urges people to be tested.

“It is a very serious disease, it is incurable but there is help. The medication can ease the symptoms and help control it, not 100%, but it does make life easier,’’ says O’Sullivan, pictured above.

“It is important to not give up, to keep positive in life and realise there is a lot of support out there.’’

COPD is mainly caused by smoking, but also regular exposure to dust, fumes, and smoke can lead to the condition. If you have difficulty in breathing or a cough with mucus which just won’t go away, and you feel tired and less able to lead the active life that you want to enjoy, then you could be suffering from COPD.

Often these symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are often attributed to getting older.

The earlier COPD is diagnosed and treated, the better. COPD is a progressive illness, which often results in people suffering the symptoms for years before they believe they are serious enough to seek medical advice.

Bernard O’Sullivan, who was diagnosed in 2008 with COPD, believes his 40-a-day cigarette habit and his job working as a barman caused his disease.

“I thought I just had asthma, but over the years my breathing was getting worse. I was in hospital being treated for cancer, when I was also diagnosed with COPD. It does restrict your life, but the important thing is to set goals and try to achieve them,’’ he says.

Diagnosis is simple and painless. A person is asked to breath hard into a machine. This spirometry test measures the amount of air forced out of the lungs in one second and also the total amount of air that can be blown out. The results should reveal if the person’s airways have narrowed.

If they have, then there may be further tests to assess the severity of the COPD, including a lung function test, chest X-rays, and testing the oxygen levels in the sufferer’s blood.

Depending upon the severity of the COPD there are a variety of treatments to ease the condition. The most important is to give up smoking, then a sufferer may be given antibiotics, taught special breathing exercises and use a combination of inhalers to keep the airways open and prevent inflammation of the lungs.

O’Sullivan is on 20 tablets a day and has 14 inhalers. His condition has stabilised but he says he can never bend down to pick up any of his six grand- children or lie on his back.

“It is hard to describe the feeling of gasping for breath. I can sleep but if I ever laid on my back then I would be in big trouble,’’ he says.

A good diet and regular exercise are also vital in managing COPD. O’Sullivan, who played football regularly up until the age of 54, agrees.

“I play golf now, but not very well, as I do get puffed out. I use to love my fries, but now I have one once a week as a little treat. It is important to be active, set goals and keep on the move. If you don’t make the effort to get out, you could become a recluse. Don’t think that you can’t do things because of COPD, just try and be positive.’’



It came as quite a surprise to learn that I had been writing my Weekend column in the Irish Examiner for 21 years — how the years have flown by and how the food scene has changed in Ireland over those two decades.A letter from Darina Allen, celebrating 21 years writing for The Irish Examiner

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