Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

The first symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) tend to come on slowly, and can be very mild. People often mistake their symptoms as signs of ageing, lack of fitness or asthma. You may cough up mucus in the mornings or feel more short of breath than usual. In the early stages, you may not have symptoms all the time, however as COPD progresses, you may gradually find it harder to do your normal daily activities such as gardening, hanging out the washing, or carrying groceries without feeling short of breath. Common symptoms of COPD include:

Shortness of breath (breathlessness)

A repetitive cough that doesn’t get better

Increased phlegm or mucus production

Feeling tired

More frequent chest infections

Longer recovery from cold or chest infection.

Anxiety and depression

Anxiety and depression are common in people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and often appear together.  The good news is that there are effective treatments both for COPD and for anxiety and depression. With careful management, the symptoms of anxiety and depression can be treated along with those of COPD so they do not interfere with life. To find out more about caring for your mental health click here.

Flare-up of symptoms

A COPD flare-up or exacerbation is when your symptoms worsen quickly, usually over a few days. It may be caused by an infection (often due to a virus) or triggered by air pollutants or irritants. Flare-ups are more common during the winter months and can make everyday activities more difficult. It is important that you can identify the early signs of a flare-up so you can start treatment as soon as possible. Common symptoms of a flare-up include:

  • Coughing more than usual
  • Finding it harder to breathe (increased breathlessness)
  • Changes in sputum (more or thicker sputum)
  • Being more tired than usual (less active)

You may need to go to hospital if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, or you have at least one of the following:

  • You find it hard to talk
  • You find it hard to walk
  • You can’t sleep because of shortness of breath
  • You feel drowsy or confused
  • Your lips or fingernails have turned grey or blue
  • Your heartbeat or pulse is very fast or irregular

A delay of 24 hours or more in seeking treatment for an exacerbation doubles the chance of hospital admission.