Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death in the United States. More than 16 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, and millions more may have it without knowing it.
COPD includes a few different lung conditions, like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It’s a serious chronic disease, and two of the most recognizable symptoms are difficulty breathing and shortness of breath.
If you’ve noticed that it’s getting harder to breathe — or if you have a chronic cough — it’s time to learn if it could be COPD and what you can do to protect your health. Our team at Medical Associates Of North Texas specializes in managing chronic respiratory conditions, including COPD.
Read on to learn more about the common symptoms of COPD and how treatment can help.
Understanding the symptoms of COPD
COPD starts slowly and gets progressively worse over time. In many cases, initial symptoms of COPD are very mild. You might not notice early warning signs, or you may attribute shortness of breath to simply getting older.
It’s important to note that shortness of breath could indicate COPD or other lung diseases, and it should never be ignored. Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice shortness of breath or difficulty breathing at any time.
As COPD progresses, symptoms generally become more noticeable. You might experience:
- Chronic cough
- Chronic mucus or phlegm
- Blue coloring to lips or fingernail beds
- Frequent respiratory infections, like colds or the flu
- Shortness of breath
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, don’t wait to go to the doctor. Identifying COPD as early as possible makes treatment more effective and helps you live a longer life.
Risk factors for COPD
The leading cause of COPD is tobacco use. In fact, up to 90% of all COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking, because the chemicals released by cigarette smoke narrow your air passages, damage air sacs, and trigger swelling in the lungs.
Although most people who get COPD have a history of smoking, nonsmokers can get it too. Your risk of developing COPD goes up if you:
- Have been exposed to air pollution
- Breathe secondhand smoke
- Have a job that exposes you to chemicals, fumes, or dust
- Have a genetic Alpha-1 deficiency
If you have risk factors for COPD, taking steps to breathe cleaner air can help protect your health. Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do if you are a smoker. If you don’t smoke, don’t start — and strive to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
Breathing easier with COPD management
Shortness of breath is a sign that you should seek a medical evaluation. At Medical Associates Of North Texas, we offer comprehensive testing to determine the cause of your symptoms.
Your evaluation starts with a physical exam, along with a thorough review of your symptoms and medical history. If you have symptoms or risk factors for COPD, we may recommend spirometry testing to measure your lung function.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for COPD. But if you’re diagnosed with COPD, you have several treatment options to help you manage your symptoms and breathe easier.
We manage COPD with medication, including oral pills or inhalers. For people with low oxygen levels, we may prescribe oxygen therapy or at-home ventilation devices.
Your treatment plan also includes avoiding triggers that inflame your air passages. Our team works with you to identify possible triggers that put you at risk, and these often include air pollution, smoke, and respiratory infections, including COVID-19.
Feeling short of breath? Don’t wait to go to the doctor. Schedule an appointment at Medical Associates of North Texas online or call our Fort Worth office at 972-695-8053.