COPD: Problems With Breathing

Penny McCrae  |  December 8, 2015
World COPD Awareness Day: Recognizing The Symptoms

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a lung condition in which inflammation of the passageways blocks air from easily flowing into the body. The disease usually occurs later in life and currently affects more than 1 million people in the UK, accounting for an estimated 25,000 deaths every year, according to the Health and Safety Executive. World COPD Awareness Day, which took place this year on 18th November, is held annually as a day to recognise the number of people with the illness and ways in which it can be prevented.

The NHS says that recognising the symptoms of COPD early enables people to begin treatment. The sooner they receive the proper medication, the less likely they are to experience serious lung damage. However, it can be challenging to notice the warning signs of COPD early on in life, as the symptoms often develop slowly over time. People may not know they have the disease until after 35, which is usually when the side effects start to emerge. In fact, most patients aren't diagnosed before the age of 50.

If you have a history of respiratory problems or you're worried about your lung health, it's important to watch for the common symptoms of COPD. If you have any of the warning signs of the illness, see your doctor as soon as possible to get a screening for the disease to reduce your risk of serious lung issues down the road. Here are three side effects you may notice if your lungs are affected by COPD.

1. Persistent coughing
One of the first symptoms to develop is a persistent cough. You can tell the difference between COPD and other illnesses where coughing is a side effect by seeing if you have shortness of breath and other common symptoms of COPD as well. The cough may come and go at first, but slowly become more chronic and intense. You may also notice that you're producing a lot of phlegm and that the severity of the cough becomes worse in the winter. 

Have your chest examined by your doctor if your cough becomes persistent.Have your chest examined by your doctor if your cough becomes persistent.

2. Breathlessness 
Shortness of breath is often what distinguishes COPD from conditions like "smoker's cough." When this symptom first begins to emerge, it may be less noticeable, only occurring when you physically exert yourself. However, over time breathlessness may become worse, especially if you smoke. It could also be accompanied by wheezing, making episodes of breathlessness distressing. It's not uncommon to wake up in the middle of the night experiencing breathlessness. Consult your doctor if episodes of breathlessness are making it difficult to sleep.

3. Chest infections
Chest infections are common in people with COPD. According to the NHS, bronchitis and pneumonia are the most frequently experienced chest infections. These chest infections usually only occur when other symptoms start to worsen and may be accompanied by chest tightness, headaches and a rapid heartbeat. Phlegm may also turn from yellow to green due to the buildup of bacteria in the chest.

"Chest infections are the most frequent cause of exacerbation."

These bacteria often trigger the worsening of other COPD symptoms if people fail to get treated for the infection. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria. Chest infections are the most frequent cause of exacerbation, or flare-ups, in those with COPD. Flare-ups are the most common reasons that COPD patients are admitted to the hospital. Make sure to see your doctor if you have COPD and begin to notice the warning signs of pneumonia, bronchitis or even the common cold. 

Other symptoms may include weight loss, chronic fatigue and swollen ankles. As these side effects of COPD may be more vague and challenging to notice, most people don't see their doctor until they're accompanied by more drastic symptoms. Therefore, it's always best to see a health professional for an assessment. Even if your fatigue turns out to be caused by nothing concerning, you'll have the peace of mind in knowing that no serious illnesses are affecting your health. 

At Gracewell, our care homes are designed to provide a comfortable, stylish and social environment where residents - including those living with COPD - are provided with full-time support by professional carers. To learn more about what we can do for you or to find a nearby location, contact us today.