4 Signs Your Cough is More than Just a Cough

Jun 21, 2016

4 Signs Your Cough is More than Just a Cough

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The American Lung Association (ALA) estimates that more than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and another 12 million likely have the condition but are unaware of it.

Scary enough, many symptoms of COPD don’t appear until there is already significant damage to the lungs. Typically, these symptoms worsen over time, especially if an individual continues to smoke or is around cigarette smoke.

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that obstructs the airflow to and from the lungs. COPD is often caused by exposure to irritating gasses like cigarette smoke.

In COPD, less air flows in and out of the airways because of one or more of the following:

  • The airways and air sacs lose their elastic quality.
  • The walls between many of the air sacs are destroyed.
  • The walls of the airways become thick and inflamed.
  • The airways make more mucus than usual, which can clog them.

Four Signs That Your Cough Might Be Something More 

  1. An ongoing cough that produces a lot of mucus
  2. Shortness of breath during mild or moderate activity
  3. Wheezing when breathing
  4. Tightness in the chest

Causes of COPD

The main cause of COPD is inhaling toxic fumes. This could be anything from cigarette smoke to inhaling fuel from heat and cooking in poorly ventilated homes.

Around 25% of frequent smokers develop COPD, although other lung conditions are usually present. When someone has COPD, the natural elasticity of the bronchial tubes is lost, causing them to over-expand and trap air in the lungs when you exhale.

Underlying Causes of Airway Obstruction 

  • Emphysema: Small airways collapse when you exhale, restricting airflow out of the lungs.
  • Chronic bronchitis: The bronchial tubes are inflamed and narrowed, which results in the lungs producing more mucus and further blocking the tubes. Chronic bronchitis is usually accompanied by a chronic cough.

Risk Factors of COPD 

  • Tobacco smoke: The most significant risk factor for COPD is long-term cigarette smoking. The longer and more frequently you smoke, the greater your risk is of developing COPD.
  • Those with asthma: If you have asthma and you also smoke, the risk of developing COPD increases.
  • Exposure to dust and chemicals: You may be exposed to dust and chemicals in various lines of work. Those exposed to chemical fumes, vapors and dust can greatly irritate the lungs.
  • Age: With age, the chance of developing COPD increases. Symptoms usually emerge between the ages of 35 and 40.
  • Genetics: Genetics and genetic disorders, such as alpha-1-antitrypsin, can make you more susceptible to COPD

Symptoms of COPD

 Excessive mucus in the lungs (Needing to clear your throat first thing in the morning).

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • A chronic cough with mucus present
  • Blueness of the lips of finger
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Significant lack energy
  • Unintentional weight loss

Those with COPD are likely to experience episodes where their symptoms are worse than usual for several days at a time.

A positive COPD diagnosis is not the end of the world, mostly due to the abundance of treatments and medications available. Look into managing symptoms and how to prepare for a doctor’s visit if you have or suspect you may have COPD

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is lung disease hereditary?

Yes, there are some forms of lung disease that are hereditary. One of the most well researched diseases is known as Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. People with this condition usually develop symptoms of shortness of breath, reduced ability to exercise, and wheezing during ages 20 and 50. Other symptoms include unintentional weight gain, recurring infections, fatigue and rapid heartbeat upon standing. This disease usually affects 1 in 1,500 to 3,500 individuals of European descent.

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What medications are available to treat lung disease?

Good question! Mostly it depends on the type of lung disease - short-acting bronchodilators are commonly used to treat stable COPD. These can include:

• Anticholinergics

• Beta2-agonists

Long-acting bronchodilators are also used for seniors who have more persistent symptoms, medications that include anticholinergics such as aclidinium, tiotropium, and umeclidinium. Beta2-agonists may also be used in the form of formoterol or salmeterol. Other medications include: 

• Phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4) Inhibitors

• Corticosteroids

• Methylxanthines

Always check with your doctor to make sure a medication regimen is working safely to help your condition!

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