Smoking and the Signs of COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, refers to several diseases that cause breathing problems and block airflows, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, in 2018, COPD was the fourth leading cause of death among Americans. More than half of adults with decreased lung function showed signs of COPD but do not know they have it. Of almost 15 million Americans living with COPD, many use tobacco products, a leading cause of COPD illness.

Risk Factors for COPD

Major risk factors for COPD include:

  • Smoking. According to the American Lung Association, 85% to 90% of COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking. Chemicals in tobacco smoke weaken you lungs’ ability to ward off infections, restrict air passages and damage air sacs. Even former smokers are at higher risk of COPD.
  • Environment. Air pollution at home and work contributes to COPD. People living in areas with heavy exposure to air pollution and secondhand smoke or who work in environments where they are exposed to dust, fumes or chemicals are at greater risk of contracting COPD.
  • Alpha-1 deficiency. A rare form of emphysema is caused by a genetic deficiency preventing the body from producing the Alpha-1 protein that protects the lungs.

Symptoms of COPD

COPD affects a person’s quality of life but may be mistaken for other conditions related to the common cold or allergies. While the risk of COPD increases as you age, developing COPD is not a natural part of getting older. Speak with a physician if you’re experiencing any of the following signs of COPD for a sustained period:

  • Blue tint to the lips or fingernails
  • Chronic cough
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Producing a lot of mucus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing

Decrease Your Risk of COPD

If you experience signs of COPD or are at higher risk, it is important to make lifestyle changes to improve your overall health. Start to breathe easier with the following tips, starting with the most important:

  • Stop smoking. The most important thing you can do to decrease COPD risk and improve overall health is to stop smoking or using tobacco products. CHRISTUS Health offers free support for quitting smoking.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke. Whenever possible, avoid secondhand smoke. If exposed, try and remain outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
  • Protect yourself. If you are working in or visiting somewhere with poor air quality, limit your time outdoors, take frequent breaks and use proper face coverings to protect your lungs.