Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD, is a general term that covers several diseases that affect the lungs, causing airflow to be blocked and making it very hard to breathe. With COPD, the airways become damaged and over time it prevents proper exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs.
The two most common health issues that are part of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but COPD may also happen to people who suffer from chronic asthmatic bronchitis.
COPD is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. About 24 million Americans have this condition, and around 100,000 die from it every year.
Most people don’t even know they have COPD until their lungs have been significantly affected, and sadly, once the damage has been done there is no fixing it. Once you’ve been diagnosed with COPD the majority of your treatment will center on controlling your symptoms and making sure you don’t get any worse.
So what are the symptoms of COPD? Overall, it depends on which condition you have and which lung has been hit the hardest. In general, signs and symptoms of emphysema include things like wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath particularly when you are doing a physical activity.
Chronic bronchitis, which refers to a cough that lasts from at least three months to a year for two years in a row, produces symptoms like a cough complete with yellowish sputum, frequent respiratory infections, needing to clear your throat after you get up in the morning (especially if you are a smoker), and in later stages, shortness of breath. Chronic asthmatic bronchitis is similar in terms of the symptoms of basic chronic bronchitis, but it also includes asthma, or bronchospasm, so you will probably have wheezing as well.
Now that we know the main symptoms of COPD, let’s travel down the trachea, or windpipe, inside the lungs to see what exactly is going on, or more specifically, not going on when someone has this condition. When we breathe, air goes into our lungs through two large tubes called the bronchi. Inside the lungs, the bronchi branch off many times into smaller tubes called bronchioles.