Early Signs of COPD
As implied in name, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) occurs when air pathways within the lungs become obstructed and cause difficulty inhaling and exhaling. Prolonged exposure to air pollutants is cited as the primary cause of this lung damage; over ninety percent of COPD cases are associated with tobacco smoking, inclusive of second-hand smoking. In a case of COPD, a person’s breathing progressively becomes more restricted due to the build-up of mucus in the bronchial tubes and the degrading elasticity of the lungs themselves.
Because of the disease’s gradual nature, symptoms of COPD typically do not become apparent before the damage has already significantly begun. A health professional should be contacted if any combination of the following symptoms begins to manifest:
- Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea
- Chronic cough
- Mucus accompanying a cough
- Tightness in the chest
- Low energy levels
- Excessive mucus when waking up
- Morning headaches
- Higher susceptibility to lung infections, viral or bacterial
Additionally, COPD patients experience an occasional phenomenon known as an exacerbation. An exacerbation is a period of time, spanning possibly from several days to a few weeks, in which symptoms acutely worsen. These episodes can be triggered suddenly by exposure to irritants in the air, high volumes of stress, or a developing illness, such as the flu. The majority of patients suffer through an exacerbation once or twice a year, depending on the severity of COPD progression. Exacerbations may be so extreme as to require antibiotics or hospitalization. Frequency in exacerbation episodes can be decreased by avoiding pollution and keeping up with prescribed medications, flu shots, and pneumonia vaccinations.
Early cases of COPD exhibit excessive coughing, in attempts to clear airways of obstructive substances. As COPD advances and lung tissue progressively loses elasticity, breathing in itself becomes more laborious, especially during aerobic activities. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can be diagnosed through a spirometry test, which assesses the functionality of the lungs based on how much air is transferred in a certain amount of time. Patients may then be treated for their symptoms through medications, oxygen therapy, and quick-relief inhalers.
From their inception, COPD symptoms will slowly worsen, particularly if exposure to tobacco products is not discontinued. Advanced phases of COPD may even produce blueness in the lips and fingernails. Often, early symptoms share similarities with those of asthma or common lung infections, and they are accordingly dismissed. However, without proper attention from a healthcare provider, COPD symptoms will inevitably escalate in severity, and so it is worthwhile to schedule a check-up the moment unusual breathlessness is noticed.