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What is COPD?

COPD is a common lung disease in which airflow is blocked making it difficult to breathe. COPD is progressive, meaning it gets worse with time.

In healthy lungs, the airways and air sacs (where oxygen passes into the blood and carbon dioxide is exhaled) are elastic or stretchy. When you breathe in, each air sac fills up with air and when you breathe out, it deflates, and air goes out.

In COPD, less air flows in and out of the airways due to:

  • Loss of elasticity of the air sacs
  • Destroyed walls of the air sacs
  • Thick and inflamed airways
  • Clogged airways


COPD is caused by long-term exposure to lung irritants that damage the airways of the air sacs. The most common cause is cigarette smoke including second-hand smoke.

Long term exposure to other irritants such as air pollution, chemical fumes or dust can also contribute to the development of COPD.

COPD develops slowly (most people are at least 40 years old when symptoms begin) and the symptoms worsen and limit activities of daily living

Signs and symptoms

  • An ongoing cough producing a lot of mucus
  • Shortness of breath, especially with physical activity
  • Wheezing (squeaky sound when you breathe)
  • Chest tightness

Treatment and prevention

There is no cure yet for COPD. The best way to prevent COPD is to stop smoking or to quit smoking. It is also important to wear the correct protective equipment if you work with chemicals or dust.

Treatment includes but is not limited to:

  • Lifestyle changes: quit smoking and avoiding lung irritants
  • Medicines such as inhalers to open the airways to make breathing easier
  • Oxygen therapy delivered through nasal prongs or a mask to increase low levels of oxygen in your blood in cases of severe COPD
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation for people who have chronic breathing problems

COPD can severely worsen the quality of life. In some cases, patients with COPD have to continuously be on oxygen. COPD also increases your risk of having to go to the hospital and having lung infections.

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