Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is a condition that makes breathing difficult. COPD develops gradually over many years and many patients may not even be aware they have it. Many people suffering from the condition may not experience any noticeable symptoms until they are in their 40s or 50s.
Prevalent Symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
It is recommended that you see a COPD doctor when you experience some of the following symptoms:
- Increased Breathlessness (this can only seem evident when exercising. However, some might experience waking up at night and feeling breathless)
- Frequent chest infections
- Persistent chesty coughs (accompanied by phlegm that does not go away)
- Persistent wheezing
Oftentimes, symptoms of COPD can worsen overtime and can make daily activities difficult. Fortunately, the right treatment can help slow down the COPD’s progression. At times, there will be periods when the symptoms worsen (this is known as exacerbation or flare-ups). Flare-ups can also typically happen during winter.
Other common symptoms of the condition that should merit a visit to a COPD doctor include:
- Weight loss
- Swollen ankles (caused by a buildup of fluid)
- Coughing up blood or chest pain (although these signs might also point to other conditions like chest infection or maybe even lung cancer)
However, the additional symptoms mostly tend to occur once COPD reaches the advanced stage.
When to See a COPD Doctor
If you are over 35 and you are a heavy smoker (or former smoker), you need to see a COPD doctor right away if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above. However, several conditions like anemia, heart failure, asthma, and bronchitis might also cause similar symptoms. Currently, there is no known cure for the condition.
Common Causes of Chronic Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease occurs when the airways and the lungs become inflamed and damaged. The condition is typically associated with long-term exposure to harmful substances like cigarette smoke. Some of the things that can increase your risk of developing COPD include:
One of the main causes of COPD is smoking. Nine out of ten cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is attributed to smoking. The harmful chemicals found in smoke can also damage the linings of the lungs as well as the airways. Quitting smoking can go a long way towards ensuring it does not worsen. Some research also suggests that exposure to second-hand smoke can also increase one’s risk of developing COPD.
Dust and Fumes
Exposure to certain types of chemicals and dust at work may damage the lungs and increase one’s risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Substances that have been linked to COPD include:
- Grain and flour dust
- Silica dust
- Cadmium fumes and dust
- Coal dust
- Welding fumes
The risk for developing COPD can increase more if hazardous fumes or dust are breathed in at work and the individual smokes heavily at the same time.
People are also more likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease if they smoke and have a family member or relative suffering from the condition. This suggests some people are more prone to developing the condition because of their genes.
At least 1 in 100 people with COPD has a genetic tendency to suffer from the condition known as alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency. Alpha-1-antitrypsin is a substance that protects the lungs. Without it, the lungs are more prone to damage.
Individuals with alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency typically develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at a younger age. They become even more vulnerable to developing the condition if they smoke.
Exposure to air pollution over long periods can also greatly affect how well the lungs function. Some research suggests that it can increase one’s risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. However, the link between COPD and air pollution has not been clearly established yet and research is still ongoing.