Smokers should watch out for COPD
What does COPD stand for? Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
While it is common knowledge that smoking causes lung cancer, smokers should also watch out for COPD as it is the other major lung disease brought on by smoking. COPD may be not as well-known as lung cancer but it is probably just as deadly. Plus, it is known to cause disabilities such as severe breathing problems and even reduced mental alertness.
As a progressive disease that develops slowly over time, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease can creep up on you as you gradually find it hard to breathe, over the years. Which is why seniors often dismiss this symptom as they attribute their worsening breathlessness as part and parcel of growing old. That is until they suffer more severe forms of COPD and only get diagnosed much later in life.
Beside breathlessness, other symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness and the infamous ‘smoker’s cough’. This ‘smoker’s cough’ or severe coughing produces mucus, a slimy substance in the lungs. With the presence of this mucus, the lungs are basically impaired from functioning as healthily and optimally as they should.
Broadly speaking, the two main common types of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Emphysema is a chronic condition in which lung tissue or alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs) are damaged or affected. This reduces respiratory functions and in turn, cause breathlessness. Note that this damage to the tissue is irreversible and usually results in permanent gaps in lung tissue.
Chronic bronchitis is a condition where there is inflammation of the bronchi (air passages leading to the lungs). This often results in the bronchi producing significantly more mucus, amongst other changes.
The usual way to accurately diagnose and monitor COPD is with spirometry. The test essentially measures how much air one can breathe out into a machine.
Smokers are advised to consult a doctor when they have a really persistent cough that does not go away after a couple of weeks.
This article has been fact-checked by Dr Alvin Ng Choon Yong, Consultant Respiratory Physician and Intensivist with The Respiratory Practice, Farrer Park Hospital