Symptoms of COPD

Symptoms of COPD  tend to usually develop over a number of years, so initially you may not realise that you have the condition. It’s not usually noticeable until after the age of  about 35 and most people diagnosed with the condition are over 50 years old.

The first symptom to develop is usually a cough that initially tends to come and go. It is a productive cough with phlegm (sputum) and will progressively become more persistent (chronic).

Usually people think of their cough as a 'smokers cough' in the early stages of the disease, however it is when the breathlessness begins that people often become concerned.

The Breathlessness (shortness of breath) (and wheezing)  may occur only when you exert yourself at first, but these symptoms tend to become steadily worse over the years  particularly if you continue to smoke. Difficulty with breathing may eventually become quite distressing.

You tend to cough up a lot of sputum each day, this is because  the damaged airways make a lot more mucus than normal which in turn  forms sputum.

COPD sufferers are inclined to have more chest infections A sudden worsening of symptoms (such as when you have an infection) is called an exacerbation. Wheezing with cough and breathlessness may become worse than usual if you have a chest infection and you may cough more sputum. Sputum usually turns yellow or green during a chest infection.

Chest infections can be caused by germs called bacteria orviruses. Bacteria (which can be killed using antibiotic medicines) cause about 1 in 2 or 3 exacerbations of COPD. Viruses (which cannot be killed with antibiotics) are a common cause of exacerbations too, particularly in the winter months. The common cold virus may be responsible for up to 1 in 3 exacerbations.

More vague symptoms of COPD are weight loss, tiredness and ankle swelling.

Middle-aged smokers and ex-smokers who have a persistent chesty cough (especially in the morning), breathlessness on slight exertion or persistent coughs and colds in the winter should see their GP or practice nurse for a simple breathing test.

If you have COPD, the airways of the lungs become inflamed and narrowed. As the air sacs get permanently damaged, it will become increasingly difficult to breathe out.

While there is currently no cure for COPD, the sooner the condition is diagnosed and appropriate treatment begins, the more  chance there is reducing any  severe lung damage.