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Dr. Maria Wilson Talks COPD Prevention and Treatment

Writer / Julie Yates
Photography Provided


During the winter months, people suffering with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) need to be especially mindful about seeking and following treatment recommendations to manage their symptoms. Plummeting temperatures and low humidity levels make breathing even more difficult for individuals who battle this chronic disease. Although the majority of individuals with COPD are diagnosed in their 50s and 60s, onset varies and is greatly dependent on environmental factors.

COPD is a progressive condition that causes breathing difficulties due to compromised lungs and airways. Shortness of breath, a chronic cough and tiredness make everyday tasks increasingly hard to accomplish. Early detection is important in slowing down the symptoms of the disease and improving the quality of life for those diagnosed.

“COPD is a chronic lung infection typically linked to smokers or people who have had a lot of exposure to smoke, but there are other reasons people contract it,” says Dr. Maria Wilson, regional director at Oak Street Health. “Exposure to environments full of lung irritants such as steel mills, or saw dust, are also reasons. Sometimes it is linked to asthma. The lung tissue becomes inflamed and stiff. The lungs are less able to exchange oxygen into the bloodstream.”

The best prevention measure is not to smoke, and to stay away from smoke-filled environments. However, if someone is diagnosed with COPD a treatment plan can be designed to slow down the progression of the disease. The goal is to find ways to relax the lung tissue.

“The most important thing someone can do is to stop smoking,” Wilson says. “Along with that, there are inhalers of different kinds. Some have steroids and others are designed to get someone through an acute situation. The disease can progress to the point where patients need to carry an oxygen machine with them 24 hours a day.”

Cold weather is a high-risk time for seniors suffering from COPD. With already-compromised and inflamed lungs, they are more susceptible to falling ill with seasonal flu during the months of October through February. It is very important to keep track of, and be up to date on, all relevant vaccines.

“At Oak Street Health we stress the importance of not losing touch with your primary health provider,” Wilson says. “We are a very hands-on model and proactively schedule visits every three or four months. When someone is 12 years old, all they need is a yearly physical and their shots. With older patients, it’s important to catch them when they are healthy and do what needs to be done to stay healthy. It’s a lot better not to be behind the eight ball.”

Oak Street Health’s primary care physicians specialize in Medicare patients. They are located throughout Indiana with four centers located in the Indianapolis area. Their website contains a blog page with tips on diet, health and other information dedicated to keeping seniors healthy.

Visit oakstreethealth.com for more information.

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