It's common to have occasional cold symptoms, like breathing difficulties or a cough. But if you have a persistent cough or frequently experience breathlessness, it could signal a more serious problem.
One of the most common and severe lung disorders is COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). It is the third leading cause of death worldwide; according to the World Health Organization, 3.23 million people died from COPD in 2019.
Want to learn more about COPD? Here's everything you need to know.
What Is COPD?
COPD is a pulmonary condition characterized by inflammation and mucus buildup in the lungs. It results in obstructed airflow and makes it hard to breathe.
COPD develops when there is damage to the lungs.It is also progressive, meaning itgets worse over time. In the early stages, COPD may cause shortness of breath only during physical activity. But as the disease progresses, you may feel out of breath even when you are at rest.
When we breathe, our respiratory system goes through a series of steps:
Air enters through the nose
Air then passes through the bronchioles (the smaller branches of the bronchi) to the alveoli (air-filled sacs)
Our lungs take in oxygen through the walls of the alveoli
Oxygen enters the blood
Carbon dioxide leaves the blood through the alveoli walls
COPD disrupts this process. Any inflammation in the bronchioles or damage to the alveoli walls can block airflow and slow oxygen uptake in the lungs.
What Are the Different Types of COPD?
There are two main types of COPD: Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis.
Emphysema is marked by damage to the alveoli walls. Typically, gases — like oxygen and carbon dioxide — are exchanged through these walls. So, any damage to them decreases the surface areaavailable for gas exchanges, resulting incoughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Chronic bronchitis causes inflammation to the lining of the bronchial tubes — the air passages that lead to the alveoli. When these tubes are inflamed, mucus builds up and restricts airflow even further.
In most cases, people with COPD suffer from both emphysema and chronic bronchitis. However, the severity of each condition may differ from person to person.
What Causes COPD?
The primary cause of COPD is long-term exposure to irritants like cigarette smoke. While smokers are at a higher risk of developing COPD, secondhand cigarette smoke also increases your risk.
Other factors that cause COPD include:
Occupational exposure to dust, chemicals or fumes
Indoor air pollution — fumes from burning fuel for cooking (in developing countries)
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a chronic disease caused by damage to the lungs. It doesn't have a cure, but it can be prevented, treated, and managed if diagnosed early.
Talk to your doctor if you have breathing difficulties, long-lasting symptoms, or other potential signs of COPD. A persistent cough might not always be COPD, but it's best to check with a professional just to be safe.