MANILA, Philippines — Smoking is the main cause of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that Comedy King Dolphy battled for six to eight years before finally succumbing Tuesday at 83.
Eric Quizon, Dolphy’s son, admitted in an interview that his father used to smoke.
In an emotional necrological service, singer Zsa Zsa Padilla, Dolphy’s long-time partner, said they initially could not understand why the comedian constantly felt sick even if he showed no outward symptoms like fever.
Eventually, from yearly medical checkups, Dolphy had to make regular hospital visits, “hanggang (until) two-and-a half years ago, sinabi na sa amin ng doctor na Stage 4 na siya ng COPD. Kinailangang kausapin ang lahat ng mga anak niya (the doctor said he already had Stage 4 COPD. It became necessary to talk to all his children),” Padilla said.
Persons suffering from COPD experience breathlessness, abnormal sputum characterized by a mix of saliva and mucus, and chronic cough. And as the condition worsens, normal activities like walking up short flights of stairs or carrying a suitcase can be very difficult.
Aside from smoking, pollution — both indoor and outdoor — can also cause COPD, the World Health Organization said in its website.
It is not known how many Filipinos suffer from COPD but the Department of Health lists it as the seventh in the top 10 causes of mortality in the country.
And in 2000, a workshop covering the Asia-Pacific region estimated that at least 6.3 percent of the Philippine population is suffering from COPD. Not surprising in a country where there are at least 17 million smokers.
But the DOH website stressed that these are “misleading figures because COPD is under-diagnosed and often not listed either as primary or contributory cause of death.”
Second-hand smokers, including children, are also at risk for COPD. An estimated 10 people die every hour in the Philippines because of tobacco use, causing a humongous health burden of about P300 billion a year.
Other factors that cause COPD include indoor and outdoor pollution, according to the World Health Organization website.
The WHO estimates that 64 million suffered from COPD in 2004, with more than three million dying of the disease in 2005, equivalent to five percent of all deaths in the world that year.
Ninety-percent of COPD deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries like the Philippines where tobacco use is high.
Deaths from COPD are projected to increase by more than 30 percent over the next 10 years, the WHO warned.
Because symptoms develop slowly, COPD goes mostly undiagnosed, although the WHO said people normally diagnosed with the disease are aged 40 or older.
The disease is diagnosed through a test called spirometry that measures how much air a person can inhale and exhale and how fast oxygen passes through the lungs.
There is no cure for COPD. The best way to prevent COPD is to quit smoking. However, there are various treatments that can control the symptoms of COPD and help patients improve their breathing.
In Dolphy’s case, he was often seen with an oxygen tank before his hospital confinement.