Lady staring directly at us with breathing apparatus around her nose caused by COPD

COPD is a disease where your lungs are destroyed.  Breathlessness is an early sign

What is COPD?

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a disease where the lungs are destroyed. It’s the fifth biggest killer in the UK and most cases are caused by smoking.

  • COPD is the term used for chronic (long term) bronchitis and emphysema.
  • Feeling short of breath, a chronic cough and wheezing are early signs
  • With COPD the airways in your lungs become inflamed and thicken
  • In the later stages of COPD people can feel like they are suffocating which can be frightening

Even if you have COPD or are worried you might have COPD, quitting smoking can ease symptoms and stop any further damage.  COPD does not just affect elderly people but most people are at least 40 years old when symptoms of COPD first appear.

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Woman with oxygen

The likelihood of developing COPD increases the more you smoke and the longer you’ve smoked for.  If you smoke, the single most effective treatment for COPD is to stop. You’ll feel better too, less short of breath and cough less.  Although the damage to the lungs is permanent, treatment can help slow down the progression of the condition.

Woman with breathing problems

How smoking causes COPD

COPD usually develops because of long-term damage to the lungs from breathing in a harmful substance, usually tobacco smoke. The risks are the same whether you smoke cigarettes or rolling tobacco.  With COPD, less air is able to move in and out as you breathe because the airways have become narrowed. This is because:

  • The lung tissue is damaged so there is less pull on the airways.
  • Mucus blocks part of the airway.
  • The airway lining becomes inflamed and swollen.
  • Treatments are available to help people breathe more easily and help you keep active, so it’s important to get an early diagnosis.
Lady sitting on bed with her back to the viewer looking out of her high rise flat windows

What does it feel like?

The main symptoms include:

  • Getting short of breath easily when doing everyday things such as going for a walk or doing housework.
  • Having a cough that lasts a long time.
  • Wheezing in cold weather.
  • Producing more phlegm than usual.• Severe COPD can leave people struggling to breathe and in some cases……..

If you have symptoms that you are concerned about, talk to your GP.

Asthma and Lung UK has support and advice and local support groups.

Visit or phone the national helpline 03000 222 5800

67 is no age to die. It’s still young. She should have been watching her grandchildren grow up.” Alyson Jordan, 50, from Birtley, lost her mum, Heather, in 2016 aged just 67, after an eight-year battle with COPD. Watch her story.

Woman looking sad

Dr Karen Marshall, Respiratory Nurse Consultant talks about what COPD is, how it relates to smoking and why quitting can help.

Woman in nurse's uniform