November 9, 2015 | by

November is National COPD Awareness Month. Take steps now to keep you or your loved one healthy.

It’s easy to assume that shortness of breath, ongoing coughing, and wheezing are symptoms of a passing cold or allergies. However, they could be signs of chronic pulmonary disease or COPD. Half of the estimated 24 million people in the United States who have COPD don’t even know it. Symptoms can occur gradually and progress slowly over time.

COPD is an inflammatory lung disease that obstructs airflow from the lungs. Conditions contributing to COPD include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD can damage the airways (bronchioles) and air sacs (alveoli), making breathing difficult.

Signs and symptoms of COPD

  • Shortness of breath
  • Ongoing cough, sometimes called “smoker’s cough”
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness

    Know the risk factors that increase the risk of COPD

  • Smoking. Long-term cigarette smoking is the leading risk factor in the majority of COPD cases.
  • Long-term exposure to irritants. Exposure to irritants such as cigar smoke, secondhand smoke, air pollution and workplace dust, smoke or fumes can cause COPD.
  • Genetics. In about 1 percent of people with COPD, the disease results from alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, a very uncommon genetic disorder that also affects the liver.
  • Age. Most people are 35-40 years old when they notice symptoms beginning.

    Start a conversation with your doctor

    Diagnosing COPD early can help you and your doctor better manage the disease. If you notice signs and symptoms of COPD, make an appointment with your doctor. At your appointment, your doctor may ask you to:

  • Describe your breathing symptoms. How long have you had a cough? How long does it last? Do you notice excess mucus?
  • Share any family history of COPD. Has anyone in your family had COPD or experienced these symptoms?
  • Consider flu and pneumonia vaccinations. Patients with COPD are more likely to get respiratory infections like colds, the flu and pneumonia. Annual vaccines for flu and pneumonia can be crucial preventing increased damage to lung tissue.

    If you have questions about COPD symptoms or management, talk with your Polyclinic primary care provider or one of our Pulmonologists.

    Resources

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