Some signs and symptoms of COPD include cough with mucus, shortness of breath, and fatigue. When these signs first occur, people often mistakenly attribute them to aging, being out of shape, or "smoker's cough." They may limit their level of activity to accommodate these COPD symptoms without even realizing it. There are also instances when it’s hard for doctors to be sure whether a patient has COPD or asthma. These are just a few reasons why it's important to really understand the symptoms of COPD.
Since COPD is a progressive disease, many signs and symptoms may be mild at first and become more severe over time. Signs and symptoms of COPD may vary and include:
- Shortness of breath or "dyspnea": when you breathe harder but feel like you're running out of air
- Persistent (chronic) cough
- Coughing up mucus/phlegm
- Difficult or labored breathing during physical activity
or while resting
- Wheezing (air trying to flow through a narrow airway)
- Higher frequency of pneumonia and lung infections
Other signs and symptoms that could be associated with COPD:
- Weight loss
- Morning headaches (breathing decreases during sleep, which means less oxygen comes in and more carbon dioxide builds up in the blood, which may cause headaches)
At times, any or all of the respiratory related symptoms may suddenly "flare up" or get worse than usual. These episodes of more severe symptoms are known as exacerbations, and they should be taken seriously.
Make sure to talk with your healthcare provider if you're experiencing any of the COPD symptoms listed above.
Keep in mind, COPD symptoms aren't just something you wake up with one morning. They develop slowly. The lung is fairly resilient and can sustain a considerable amount of damage before it starts producing any symptoms. By the time most people are diagnosed, they may have already lost some of their lung function. Certain COPD symptoms, like fatigue and shortness of breath affect each individual differently. That's why it's important to talk to your healthcare provider if you notice a change in any of the symptoms listed above.
COPD can be challenging to manage. Avoiding triggers — or things that cause your COPD symptoms to get worse — can be a huge help. Here are some actions you can take:
If you haven't done so already, quitting smoking is one of the most important steps you can take to help your COPD. Additionally, try to avoid secondhand smoke.
Keep your home clean
Keep your home clean and free from excess dust. Removing mold and mildew from bathrooms and sinks is also helpful.
Use a cooking vent
Make sure the cooking vent is working well so that cooking fumes can be drawn out of your home.
Avoid air pollution
If air pollution levels are high, stay inside.
Help prevent serious health risks
Ask your healthcare provider if and when you should get the flu and/or pneumonia vaccines. These shots can help protect you from getting these illnesses, which are major health risks for people who have COPD.
Avoid large crowds
Avoid large crowds in the fall and winter, when flu season is at its peak.
Wash your hands often
Wash your hands often to help prevent the spread of germs, and have people around you do the same.
Try to avoid cold air
Try to avoid cold air. It can trigger bronchospasms and shortness of breath.