COPD: are you one of the missing millions?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the name for a group of lung conditions where breathing becomes difficult as a result of having narrowed airways.

According to the British Lung Foundation, millions of people across the UK have COPD and don’t even know it. They’re struggling with their symptoms – such as getting short of breath easily – and because they often find everyday tasks a challenge, they may also have a lower quality of life.

Raising awareness of COPD could help find the missing millions and get more people the treatment and support they need. Here are some of the things you should know:

What is COPD?

Two of the main lung conditions included under the term COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and those affected may have one or a mixture of two. If you have bronchitis your airways have become inflamed and narrowed, whereas if you have emphysema the air sacs in your lungs have become damaged.

Symptoms include a persistent chesty cough, wheezing, breathlessness and frequent chest infections. People with COPD can also lose weight and feel tired all of the time.

If you have a mild case of COPD, you may only experience symptoms 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 so severe they may be admitted to hospital.

What causes it?

Smoking is the most common cause of COPD. The more you smoke, and the longer you smoke for, the higher your chances are of developing the condition. That’s because tobacco smoke irritates and inflames your lungs, which in the long term can lead to permanent damage.

The good news is that giving up smoking can gradually reduce your chances of developing COPD. Even if you already have COPD, quitting means the disease could progress much more slowly.

COPD can also occasionally be caused by chronic severe asthma, or exposure to air pollution or other types of fumes.

How is it treated?

If you have any of the symptoms – such as breathless and/or a persistent chesty cough – it’s important to see your GP as soon as possible, because the sooner you get treatment, the better.

If the results of your tests show you have COPD, the treatments you may be prescribed include inhalers and/or tablets, depending on the severity of your symptoms. Most importantly, if you smoke your doctor will encourage you to quit, as this is the only proven way to reduce the rate of damage to your lungs. In fact, for those diagnosed with the early stages of mild COPD, stopping smoking may be the only treatment they need.

There are also some self-help measures you can take to manage your symptoms better, including keeping as active as possible, eating a healthy balanced diet, staying away from fumes (exhaust fumes, for instance, or things like cleaning products and hair spray), keeping warm when it’s cold outside and trying to avoid stress.

For help and support with giving up smoking, have a chat with your local Careway pharmacist, who can give you tips as well as recommend stop smoking products that may be helpful. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.

World COPD Awareness Day is held on November 21, 2018.