COPD: Causes, symptoms and treatment

Living with COPD

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease or COPD is a medical condition in which two long term lung diseases like chronic bronchitis and emphysema occur together making the person difficult to breathe. The airways in the lungs get damaged causing them to become narrower and making it difficult for air to get in and out of the lungs. COPD is usually caused by harmful particles or gas in the air which triggers the abnormal inflammatory response in the lungs. It is a long term ailment and there is no particular cure for it, just that there are ways and measure to manage it and keep it under control. Living with COPD can be a life-long challenge and you need to know about the illness in depth to tackle it properly. Listed below are some of the important factors you need to know about COPD and how to deal with it.

Causes of COPD

1. Smoking

One of the most common causes of COPD is tobacco smoking. The older you are, the more the chances of having the lung disease. Being around second hand smokers also play a vital role in an individual developing COPD, not to mention other extra pulmonary diseases like diabetes and cancer which could be the aftermath of a sever smoking scenario.

2. Occupational factors

If you are exposed to dust particles, fumes and other chemicals, the chances of you developing COPD is high. They are known to obstruct the airflow which could harness your breathing, making you highly prone to developing this lung disease.

3. Genetics

Genetic susceptibility plays a role in the development of COPD. It is a condition in which the body does not make enough proteins which protects the lungs from damage caused by the protease enzyme. These are released as a result of an inflammatory response to tobacco smoke.

4. Air Pollution

Studies have proven that people who live in large crowded cities are prone to the COPD illness than those living in rural areas. This could be because of air pollution in the crowded larger cities. It is also a known factor that indoor cooking which is caused by fire smoke is also a common cause for COPD, especially in women.

Symptoms of COPD

1. Shortness of breath

People with COPD often feel out of breath and feel like they can’t get enough air in. This could be noticed after a vigorous work out session when the demands of the lungs are the maximum. But over the years, you will notice that the breathing issue becomes worse and that it occurs during milder activities like walking and housework. The ultimate symptom is the occurrence of shortness of breath even during resting periods.

2. Cough

A persistent cough which never goes away could be a symptom of COPD. This cough could also produce large amounts of mucus which could block the air way.

3. Wheezing

Wheezing is usually caused by a blockage of the airways, making a squeaky sound when you breathe. You can use a stethoscope to check whether wheezing is prevalent or in some cases the sound of crackles in the lungs is so obvious, you can hear it without the aid of a stethoscope.

4. Tightness in the chest

If you feel a sort of pressure within the chest walls, making normal breathing difficult, then it could be a symptom of COPD. It can sometimes make breathing painful, causing respiration to be shallow and short.

5. Severe symptoms

In severe cases, symptoms like respiratory failure occurs which needs medical attention. Your lips turn blue due to the lack of oxygen in the blood. You are prone to headaches, drowsiness and in worse case scenarios, swelling of ankles and severe dyspnea (shortness of breath).


To diagnose if you have COPD, your doctor will first enquire about the symptoms you have and your medical history. He will basically ask you to do tests which can confirm COPD.

1. Spirometry is an easy, painless test which is done by breathing into a large hose connected to a machine called the spirometer. This device measures how much air your lungs can hold in and how fast and frequently you can exhale it out of your lungs. Spirometry also helps determine the severity of the COPD condition based on a person’s age, gender, weight and height.

2. A chest X-ray can diagnose whether you have COPD or if it is any other lung disease. An over expanded lung, a flattened diaphragm and bullae are all proof that you have the COPD condition which can be proven by a chest x ray

3. A Computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest can also depict the prevalence of COPD, with the distribution of emphysema throughout the lungs being present. This method is more advanced and shows clearly the occurrence of COPD

4. Pulmonary Function Tests (PFT’s) can determine lung functions and the extent of damage. It can also help figure out if the patient has COPD with emphysema or not.


1. A good diet will help you manage the COPD issue to an extent. Eat a balanced diet which would be sufficient and healthy and try and keep mobile as much as you can without exerting too much.

2. Breathlessness can be treated using a bronchodilator. It is an inhaler that will deliver medicines to your airways, making breathing easier.

3. Supplemental oxygen can be given to people with low oxygen levels in their body, enabling them to move about doing more activities and household work.

4. You doctor might sometimes prescribe steroids for a short period of time to take care of situations where you suddenly become short of breath or your other symptoms get worse.

5. Deciding to stop smoking and sticking with the decision is the most effective treatment of all. Even in worst scenarios, smoking cessation can make a big difference to your breathing issues.


1. Stay away from any activity that will aggravate your breathing problem like smoke, dust, fumes and air pollution

2. Take your medication as prescribed by your doctor, without missing any and make appointments to visit your doctor to regularly check the medical progress.

3. Do a lot of breathing exercises that can help you get in sync with breathing properly? Moving around and exerting yourself may be difficult, but try and do slow exercises like walking, at least several times a week. This would not only keep you in shape but also help improve breathing

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is good nutrition important for a person with COPD?

A well balanced diet is important for everyone, more so for a person affected with COPD. It can give you more energy and improve health in so many ways. A person with COPD needs much more calories than a normal healthy person because he requires much more energy to breathe, thereby burning calories because of the exertion

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