Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive lung condition affecting millions worldwide. It is the third most significant cause of death in patients, claiming more than 3 million lives in 2019. However, it often remains undiagnosed until it reaches advanced stages, making early detection crucial for better management and improved quality of life. To do so, exploring the early signs of COPD and taking the necessary actions to mitigate them is essential.
Chronic cough is among the earliest indicators of COPD. The persistent cough is commonly dismissed as a symptom of a minor infection or inhalation of allergens. It is typical for the cough to linger around for months. The primary cause for this persistent cough is the prolonged exposure of the respiratory system to chronic inflammation or irritation. Long-term exposure to environmental irritants like chemicals, dust, and other air pollutants can trigger it.
COPD patients experience increased mucus production, often accompanied by persistent coughing. The mucus produced in such patients is thicker and stickier than in minor infections. Usually, the lungs produce mucus to protect the airway against irritants. The mucus traps pollutants that enter the respiratory system and eliminates them. When exposed to high levels of irritants, the body produces more mucus to fight off the invaders.
Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
COPD often presents an early warning sign known as dyspnea or shortness of breath during physical activity. At first, this may be attributed to the patient being unfit or the natural aging process, but as the disease progresses, it can significantly impact daily life. Airway obstruction is the primary cause of dyspnea in COPD. The persistent inflammation and structural changes in the airways result in reduced airflow in and out of the lungs, leading to a sensation of breathlessness.
Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound that occurs when breathing. While it can be associated with various respiratory conditions, it is a common early sign of COPD. The primary cause of wheezing in COPD is the narrowing of the airways due to inflammation and the accumulation of mucus. Wheezing in COPD often occurs during exhalation and is more pronounced during physical activities or in response to irritants. It may also be accompanied by a sensation of tightness in the chest.