Are you COPD aware?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – COPD for short – is one of this country’s most common respiratory diseases. Yet according to the British Lung Foundation (BLF), millions of people across the UK have COPD but don’t realise it, suggesting awareness of the condition is low.

So with World COPD Day taking place on November 15th, here’s a quick guide to what causes COPD and the signs to look out for.

COPD is a term that describes three conditions – chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease. If you have COPD you may have just one of these conditions or a mixture of two. Everyone with COPD, however, is affected by long-term damage to their lungs.

You’re most likely to develop COPD if you’re over 35 and are, or have been, a smoker. Indeed, according to the NHS, smoking is the main cause of COPD and is thought to be responsible for nine in every 10 cases. That’s because the harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the lining of your lungs and airways, which can make it harder for you to breathe properly.

But smoking isn’t the only cause. COPD can also sometimes be caused by chronic severe asthma, or exposure to air pollution or other types of fumes. Very rarely it can also develop in people who suffer from the genetic condition alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency.

What are the symptoms?

COPD symptoms include a persistent chesty cough, wheezing, breathless and frequent chest infections. You may also lose weight and feel tired all the time. And according to the BLF, some people with COPD also experience anxiety and depression as a result of having respiratory symptoms.

If you have a mild case of COPD you may only experience symptoms – such as feeling breathless and a chesty cough – during the winter or after having a cold. If your COPD is more severe, however, you could suffer symptoms on a daily basis (though in winter, they may well get worse).

Many people with COPD also suffer flare-ups, where their symptoms become severe. In some cases, people having a COPD flare-up are admitted to hospital.

Living with COPD

If you’re diagnosed with COPD your GP will prescribe treatments such as inhalers and/or tablets, depending on the severity of your symptoms. There are, however, a few other things you can do to help manage your symptoms:

  • Stay active
  • Get a flu jab every year
  • Eat healthily
  • Avoid fumes
  • Keep warm in winter
  • Avoid stress

The most important thing you can do if you’re a smoker, however, is to give up. In fact, if you’re diagnosed with the early stages of mild COPD, stopping smoking may be the only treatment you’ll need.

Your local Careway pharmacist can offer lots of support with giving up smoking, including advice about stop smoking products such as nicotine patches, gum, tablets, sprays and inhalators.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.