By Joseph Hamrick
It is well-known that habitual smoking can lead to lung cancer, heart attacks and other serious health conditions.
But a new side effect of smoking has quickly climbed the charts and become the third leading cause of death in America.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a disease that deteriorates the lungs and causes shortness of breath, wheezing and frequent respiratory diseases.
Smoking is a leading cause of COPD, making up 80 percent of all cases.
According to Bill Ruth, public health nurse for the Hunt County Health Department, with a high population of Hunt County residents who smoke, COPD is on the rise.
“It’s a huge problem,” he said.
Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) released statistics showing that Hunt County averages 219 cases per year. The average five-day hospital stay costs residents more than $19,000 per person.
The older population is being hit hardest by the disease, with patients aged 60-79 making up 62 percent of hospital stays.
Ruth said the population in south Hunt County, at 34 percent, is facing a more than average rate of COPD cases.
“Quinlan has the lions share of the COPD and Bacterial Pnemonie because there are a lot of smokers in that area,” he said.
Scientists are researching why women who smoke account for 60 percent of all COPD cases.
COPD is incurable, but there are ways to stem off or slow down the rate of infection.
For smokers with COPD, Ruth said the first thing to do is to seek help to quit smoking, and to get in contact with a doctor who can help treat the disease.
Ruth said that often people wait too long to get help with this dangerous disease.
“Once people start having the kind of problems with COPD that result in hospitalization, their life expectancies drop significantly,” he said.