Symptoms Diagnosis and Treatment

What are the Symptoms of COPD?

Signs and symptoms of COPD include:

  • Constant coughing, sometimes called "smoker's cough"
  • Shortness of breath while doing everyday activities
  • Producing a lot of sputum (also called phlegm or mucus)
  • Feeling like you can't breathe or take a deep breath
  • Wheezing

How is COPD Detected?

If you are at risk for COPD or have symptoms of COPD, you should be tested.  The basic test of how your lungs work is easy and is called Spirometry.  For this test, you blow air into a mouthpiece and tubing attached to a small machine. The machine measures the amount of air you blow out and how fast you can blow it.  Your doctor will also ask for a complete health history and do a health exam.  They may also want you to have a chest x-ray and/or other tests.

If you are diagnosed with COPD, you and your doctor will discuss a treatment plan just for you.

How is COPD Treated?

  • If you are a smoker, the single most effective treatment is quitting smoking.
  • Take your medicine as prescribed by your doctor.  These are usually inhalers that can open your airways and keep them from getting swollen.  Some may be taken with a nebulizer, a machine that changes liquid medicine into a fine mist which makes it easier to inhale deep into the lungs.
  • If your COPD is severe, oxygen therapy may be used to help with shortness of breath.  This may be needed all day and all night or only part of the time.  Be sure to understand how to safely use oxygen.
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation is a program that teaches you about COPD, how to exercise and how to manage your disease, and provides support and counseling.
  • In some rare cases, surgery may be recommended for people with very severe COPD.

The American Lung Association has many useful publications designed to help you understand and manage your COPD.

 >> Learn more about preventing COPD