COPD is a serious lung disease that can dramatically impact the lives of people who live with it.

In this article we’ll look into what causes it and how it’s diagnosed, as well as how to avoid it.

Key Takeaways

  • COPD is a long-term lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe.
  • Risk factors for COPD include long-term exposure to harmful pollutants, family history of the genetic disorder, smoking or regular exposure to tobacco smoke, and occupational exposure to certain types of dusts and chemicals.
  • COPD symptoms include persistent coughing, increased shortness of breath during daily activities, chronic cough, chest tightness, and sudden and severe flare-ups.
  • There are different types of COPD, including Chronic Bronchitis, Emphysema, and Asthma-COPD Overlap Syndrome (ACOS), each with unique characteristics and effects on the body.

What is COPD?

COPD is short for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, a long-term lung disease that makes it hard to breathe.

Now, let's talk about who's at risk and the symptoms to look out for.

Who is at risk for COPD?

Your risk of developing COPD drastically increases with long-term exposure to harmful pollutants or if there's a history of the genetic disorder in your family. If you've a history of smoking or have been regularly exposed to tobacco smoke, your risk is notably higher.

However, it's not just smokers who are at risk. Occupational exposure to certain types of dust and chemicals, particularly in the mining or construction industries, can also increase your chances of developing this condition. Even exposure to air pollution, especially in densely populated urban areas, can contribute to the risk.

It's also important to note that age and gender play a role. Older adults, especially men, are more likely to develop COPD.

Symptoms of COPD

Over time, it's common to notice a gradual onset of symptoms with COPD, including persistent coughing and an increased shortness of breath during daily activities. A chronic cough and chest tightness can also be part of your experience. It's not easy living with these symptoms, they can be quite limiting and affect your quality of life.

COPD can also bring about sudden and severe flare-ups: - You might find yourself gasping for air even when you're just sitting. - That cough that used to be just annoying could become persistent and terribly disruptive. - A tight feeling in your chest might escalate, making it harder to breathe. - Your daily activities may become significantly more challenging, draining you of energy and vitality.

Types of COPD

You may not know that COPD comes in different forms, including Chronic Bronchitis, Emphysema, and Asthma-COPD Overlap Syndrome (ACOS).

Each type has its own unique characteristics and effects on your body.

Chronic Bronchitis

It's essential that we explore the topic of chronic bronchitis, a type of COPD, that leads to swelling and irritation of the bronchial tubes. This chronic lung disease can seriously hamper your ability to breathe freely. Imagine waking up every morning with a persistent cough with mucus, an uncomfortable reminder of your condition. Struggling to perform daily activities due to breathlessness, a result of long-term exposure to irritants. Feeling the constant need to use your inhaler due to your inflamed bronchial tubes. Knowing that smoking, a habit you may have quit years ago, led to this debilitating condition.

This paints a sobering picture, doesn't it? Thus, understanding chronic bronchitis becomes crucial in managing the disease and improving your quality of life.


Emphysema, another type of COPD, damages your air sacs, leading to breathlessness and wheezing, but treatments like lung volume reduction can provide relief. This disease progressively destroys the walls of the air sacs, causing lung damage and hampering your lung function. You'll find yourself constantly short of breath, even when you're resting.

Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of emphysema, so you're exposing yourself to risk factors every time you light up. Even exposure to air pollution and workplace dust can contribute to the disease.

In cases of severe COPD, lung volume reduction surgery or even a lung transplant may be necessary. It's crucial to seek treatment early to relieve symptoms and slow the progression of this debilitating disease.

Asthma-COPD Overlap Syndrome (ACOS)

In dealing with Asthma-COPD Overlap Syndrome (ACOS), you're battling a condition that combines characteristics of both asthma and COPD, which can result in more frequent exacerbations and a faster lung function decline. ACOS can be especially challenging due to its lack of a clinical definition and exclusion from certain studies.

Consider the impact of ACOS:

  • Your history of asthma may complicate the diagnosis and treatment of COPD.
  • You might experience more frequent and severe COPD flare-ups.
  • Long-acting bronchodilator inhalers, often prescribed for COPD, may not be as effective due to the overlap with asthma.
  • The constant struggle with airflow limitation can significantly impact your quality of life.

artists impression of lungs

Diagnosing COPD

When it comes to diagnosing COPD, you'll encounter a variety of diagnostic tests. These tests are crucial in accurately identifying your condition and shaping your treatment plan.

Diagnostic Tests

Your doctor's choice of diagnostic tests for COPD can range from a simple spirometry to more complex imaging tests like a CT scan. These tests are crucial for identifying your respiratory symptoms and ruling out other disorders.

  • Pulmonary function tests, such as spirometry, measure how well your lungs work.
  • An arterial blood gas test checks the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood.
  • Imaging tests like a chest x-ray or CT scan provide a detailed image of your lungs and can detect any abnormalities.
  • Lastly, your doctor may rule out other disorders causing similar symptoms, ensuring you receive the correct treatment.


In conclusion, you've got to take care of your lungs. COPD's no joke, with types like emphysema and chronic bronchitis causing real harm. It's key to get a diagnosis early for the best chance at managing it.

Don't ignore symptoms like breathlessness, coughing, or wheezing. Make sure to see your doctor right away.

Remember, it's your health on the line, and you're worth it.

This information is intended solely for New Zealand residents and is of a general nature only. No person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided, but at all times should obtain specific advice from a health professional.

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