Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Symptoms

By Michele C. Hollow  @michelechollow
January 07, 2017

Learn about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease symptoms so you can get the right treatment and learn to manage and live with your COPD.

You know those ads on TV, the ones with the elephant following a person with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)? In one, an elephant sits on a person’s chest. We all have an idea of what COPD is, but many of us are not really sure. 

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease symptoms

• Shortness of breath 

• Chronic cough

• Frequent respiratory infections

• A light blue color in your fingertips or lips

• Exhaustion

• Wheezing

• Producing lots of mucus




According to the American Lung Association, most people don’t recognize COPD symptoms at the early stages of the disease. Often people associate these COPD symptoms with getting older. If you have any of the above COPD symptoms, consult your doctor. Ignoring COPD will only make the illness worse. It can lead to chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease causes

Smoking is the number one cause of COPD; nonsmokers are also at risk of getting the disease. You might not smoke, but if your partner smokes or if you are around someone who smokes a lot, you are at risk of developing COPD.

Cigarettes cause between 85 and 90 percent of all COPD cases. When one cigarette burns, it releases more than 7,000 chemicals. Most of those chemicals are harmful. The toxins from cigarette smoke weaken our ability to fight infections. Cigarette smoke also narrows air passageways in our lungs and causes swelling in air tubes. Plus, cigarette smoke destroys air sacs. All of these increase your risk of getting COPD.

Air pollution, indoors and out, plays a role in getting COPD, too. We know long-term exposure to air pollution is bad for us. Being around dust, fumes, and chemicals can bring on COPD. 

COPD can also be inherited. A small number of people have alpha-1 deficiency-related emphysema. This is a rare form of COPD where the body is unable to produce a protein called alpha-1. Alpha-1 protects the lungs. Of the more than 12 million people in the U.S. who are diagnosed with COPD, less than three percent have this form. 

You can reduce your risk of getting COPD if you stop smoking. If you don’t smoke, avoid being around people who do. Your house and workplace should be smoke-free. 

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease treatment

If you have COPD, talk to your doctor about changing your eating habits and lifestyle. It can be hard eating certain foods because of shortness of breath. Your doctor may recommend eating smaller, more frequent meals. You might also be told to slow down and rest between bites, and your doctor may suggest that you take nutritional supplements to make sure you’re getting all the required vitamins and minerals your body needs. 

The thought of exercising with shortness of breath may sound perplexing. However, exercise strengthens muscles that help you breathe. So, talk to your doctor about exercise. He may recommend short walks. 

Your doctor may also prescribe bronchodilators, medications that increase airflow to your lungs. Bronchodilators are also used to treat asthma. For COPD and asthma, bronchodilators are used with inhalers. These are small devices that help the medication go right to your lungs. 

The type of medication prescribed will depend on if you have mild or severe COPD. For severe cases, your doctor may also recommend an inhaled steroid, which helps reduce airway inflammation. 

Severe COPD may also be treated with oxygen therapy, which increases the level of oxygen in your blood. Surgery, usually the last resort, is suggested if your medications or other therapies don’t work. Therapy includes bullectomy; that’s the removal of dilated air space in the lungs measuring more than one centimeter. 

Extreme cases also include lung transplants and lung volume reduction surgery. Lung volume reduction surgery improves breathing.

If you have any of the COPD symptoms mentioned in this article, talk to your doctor. Getting treatment early will make the disease more manageable.  


March 03, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN