Everything You Need to Know About COPD

April 24, 2023
8 min read
Everything You Need to Know About COPD

As time goes on, it seems like there has been an increase in the number of people getting diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a large amount of the population either don't know what it is or have a very basic understanding. In this article, we're going to explain what this disease is, what causes it, some of the symptoms, and what kind of treatment options you have. With that said, let's dive right in.

What is COPD?

COPD is a group of lung conditions that make breathing difficult and continue to get worse over time. In a healthy person, the air sacs and airways are stretchy and air is brought to the sacs by the airway. The sacs will inflate and deflate when you breathe out. This disease makes it so you have less airflow, which leads to difficulty breathing.

If you have the disease, there could be a few reasons why you aren't getting enough airflow. Those things are listed below.

  • The sacs and airways have become less stretchy.
  • The airways make too much mucus, which can cause clogging or blockages.
  • The airway walls have become thicker or inflamed.
  • Many of the walls between the air sacs have been damaged or destroyed.


The majority of people that have this disease have a history of smoking and are usually 40 or older. With that said, though, even those that haven't touched a cigarette or hasn't been around it can suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In addition, those that have spent a lot of time around inhalants that are irritating, like chemicals, have a higher chance of developing the disease.

Some of the other causes and information about who might be more susceptible to the disease are listed below.

Other Causes

  • Those that smoke tobacco products, like cigarettes, pipe tobacco, and cigars.
  • A genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

Risk Factors

  • Current or history of smoking
  • Exposure to lung irritants over a long period of time.
  • Advanced age.
  • Genetics

Types & Differences

Most people think that asthma is a part of this group of lung diseases, but it actually isn't. With chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, the disease usually appears after the age of 40 and is more common in those that currently or used to smoke. On the other hand, those with asthma usually start noticing symptoms in their childhood and can result from genetics. Asthma can be fully reversed, while chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder can not.

The other two lung conditions included in this lung disease group are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema affects the actual air sacs in your lungs and causes them to be less stretchy and damaged, while chronic bronchitis causes your airways to always be inflamed and irritated. Many people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder also suffer from both of these conditions, but the severity varies from person to person.


While this disease can be often misdiagnosed, medical professionals continue to develop ways to correctly diagnose it. Not only will they get a thorough medical history from you, but they'll also talk about what symptoms you're having and run some tests. We've listed these below to give you a better idea of what to expect.

  • Spirometry-It's the most common method to diagnose lung function and is done by having the patient take a deep breath and blowing into a tube that's connected to a spirometer.
  • Imaging-Patient will have imaging tests like a CT scan or X-ray to see a clear image of the lungs and surrounding areas.
  • Arterial blood gas test-The patient will have blood taken and it'll be sent off to be tested for blood oxygen level, carbon dioxide levels, and others.

Early Symptoms

When people first develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, they might think they just have the flu because the symptoms can be quite mild. Some people might not notice much change at all. During these early stages, it's normal for people to do the same things they would if they have a cold, including canceling plans or avoiding gatherings. Some of the most common early symptoms of the disease are listed below.

  • Shortness of breath that only happens occasionally, especially after physical activities.
  • Mild cough that doesn't seem to go away.
  • Needing to constantly clear your throat, especially during the morning after waking.
  • Mild wheezing

All of these symptoms will probably start quite mild and you might not realize that something more is going on.

Late Symptoms

As the disease progresses and more damage is done, you'll notice that your symptoms are starting to get worse. Keep in mind that these could be symptoms of other conditions, but you should see a doctor regardless, especially if you've been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. The late-stage symptoms are listed below.

  • Shortness of breath that gets worse after simple tasks like climbing stairs or walking a short distance.
  • Severe weezing
  • Chest tightness
  • A persistent cough that can be with or without mucus.
  • The need to clear mucus out of your lungs every day.
  • An increase in things like colds, respiratory infections, or the flu.
  • A decrease in the amount of daily energy you have.
  • Swelling of the feet, ankles, and legs.
  • Unintended weight loss

COPD Treatment Options

The most common COPD treatment options are listed below. Some people might find that certain treatment options don't help them, while others might find that the same option helps quite a bit. Talk with your doctor to figure out what the best step is.

Oxygen Therapy

If you don't have a high enough oxygen level, you can be put on supplemental oxygen that can be delivered through a nasal cannula or a face mask that goes over your nose and mouth. You may need a portable system to provide supplemental air at all times.


Another option is surgery, which is usually only recommended for those with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. There are a few different surgeries that can be done, including a lung transplant, lung volume reduction surgery, or a bullectomy.

Lifestly Changes

The final option is to make some life changes. The exact changes you'll need to make will vary from person to person, but some things include quitting smoking, avoiding things like secondhand smoke or irritants, and making sure you're keeping your body as healthy as possible.

Common Medications

In addition to the treatment options above, there are also some medications that can help those suffering from this disease. These are listed below and similar to the treatment options above, some people might not see any improvement with certain options so you might need to try a few.


These are quite common and they work by helping loosen up the muscles in the airways. The short-acting options last between 4 and 6 hours and the longer-acting ones can last up to 12 hours.


These are available as either a pill or inhalant and are usually taken alongside nebulizers or inhalers. They work by reducing any lung inflammation and decreases how much mucus is produced.


This comes in pill form and is used to help with chest tightness and shortness of breath. It works by letting the muscles in and around your airways relax. This isn't usually one of the first choices due to possible side effects, but it has been used for many years.

Antibiotics and Antivirals

These don't treat the disease itself but can help reduce flare-ups when you're experiencing respiratory infections.

Phosphodiesterase-4 Inhibitors

This medication is usually only prescribed to those that have both chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and chronic bronchitis. It comes in a pill and helps the airways relax and reduces how much inflammation there is.


Since things like respiratory infections can increase flare-ups, it might be a good idea to talk to your doctor and see which vaccines you should get. This includes vaccines for the flu and other common illnesses.

Dietary Changes

Those suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can also benefit from certain dietary changes. While all of these might not work for you, it's good to know what some additional options are.

Eating Habits

If you find that you're short of breath after meals, there are a few things you can try. These things are listed below, but it's important to remember that it might not be helpful for everyone.

  • Clear airways before eating.
  • Take smaller bites and chew thoroughly.
  • Have five to six small meals a day instead of three big ones.
  • Save fluids for the end of the meal to try and feel less full while eating.

Liquid Intake

You'll also want to make sure you're getting enough liquids every day because it can help keep mucus production down. You should try and drink 6-8 8oz glasses of liquid every day. Try to avoid caffeinated drinks because they can have negative interactions with other medications.

Weight Management

Since the lungs and heart have to work harder in heavier people, you'll want to try and maintain a healthy weight. Keep in mind, some physical activities can make the symptoms worse, so make sure you talk with your doctor.


While there isn't a certain diet for those with the disease, you want to try and stay as healthy as possible. You want to choose various foods from all of the food groups. If possible, make sure you aren't using too much salt in your food.

How to Live with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Finally, it's important to talk about what you can do to live a satisfying life while suffering from COPD. These things are listed below and you can also do the things that make you the happiest.

  • Make sure you're only eating a diet that consists of nutrient-rich foods.
  • Do at least a little bit of exercise every day.
  • Expect flare-ups to happen and be as prepared as possible.
  • Make sure you're adequately treating other diagnosed conditions.
  • Avoid smoking and going around secondhand smoke or irritating inhalants.
  • Make sure you clean to get rid of any dust or other irritants.
  • Find as much support as possible.

Now that you know more about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and what some of your options are, you should feel a little more prepared for dealing with the disease. The best thing to do is talk to your doctor and work with them to find the best treatment options for your specific situation.

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