What is COPD?

COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a combination of Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis. In emphysema, the lungs lose their elasticity and make it hard to get the air out. In chronic bronchitis, there is a lot of mucus being made that results in a productive cough for at least 3 months of the year for 2 years in a row when other causes have been ruled out.

COPD causes wheezing; breathlessness; chest tightness; coughing and a lot of mucus being made. If you have COPD, it is always there but flare ups happen when something triggers your lungs such as a lung infection, cigarette smoke or other irritants.

What’s a COPD flare up?

During a flare up you can experience the following:

  • Shortness of breath – breathing becomes difficult or you feel like you can’t catch your breath,
  • Coughing- you may have a productive cough with a lot of mucus or you may have a dry hacking cough,
  • Chest tightness as if something heavy is sitting on your lungs
  • Wheezing – your breathing will sound noisy; if your breath sounds like a whistle or a rattling sound in the chest, those are common symptoms.

How Can You Tell If You Have COPD?

Talk to your health care provider if you have symptoms of not being able to breathe or coughing a lot. Your health care provider may order tests and ask you some questions such as:

  • Do you cough a lot?
  • Do you cough up mucus?
  • Are your breathing difficulties worse after physical activity, or at certain times of the year?
  • Do you have chest tightness, wheezing, and/or colds lasting more than 10 days?
  • Do you or did you ever smoke?
  • Do you or did you ever live with someone who smoked around you?
  • Often, the doctor will also check how well your lungs are working using a device called a spirometer.