Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a severe, progressive disease. If you notice any new or worsening breathing problems, having an accurate diagnosis can help you start treatment sooner and slow progression of the problem.


Even in the early stages of COPD, the symptoms are bothersome, but they can be consistent with other health conditions. The most obvious symptom is breathlessness. This may occur regardless of physical activity. You may experience wheezing and tightness in your chest. At first, these signs may seem like breathing problems that occur with a viral infection or asthma, but once they do not resolve, it is more obvious it is a chronic issue. Another symptom is coughing, which can be either a dry or productive cough. Your doctor will want to gauge your symptoms and refer you for imaging tests. A chest x-ray is an important test because doctors can see the size of the lungs and whether there are tumors, which would be more consistent with a malignant tumor. Spirometry tests are used to test different aspects of your breathing, which can identify breathing difficulties.


There are many different medications that are used to manage COPD. Bronchodilators and inhaled steroids are the most common medications used, and sometimes they can be administered as a combination treatment. Bronchodilators help make it easier to breathe by preventing the airway from constricting. Inhaled steroids are similar to oral steroids, except they go directly to the source of the problem and reduce inflammation that causes breathing difficulties. Other treatments include therapies to improve breathing, such as pulmonary rehabilitation. Pulmonary rehab programs combine different aspects of COPD management, such as breathing techniques, lifestyle changes, and social support. Quitting smoking and managing other chronic diseases is also critical for effective COPD management.

Disease Progression

Unfortunately, COPD is a progressive disease. Additionally, there will be exacerbation or "flare-ups" when your symptoms become temporarily worse, which may occur more often as the disease progresses. It is important to prevent exacerbations as much as possible by reducing triggers, such as stress and environmental irritants. During exacerbations, oxygen therapy might be necessary to maintain your oxygen saturation. Additionally, imaging tests can be used to determine if there are other reasons for the exacerbation, such as pneumonia. Your doctor might recommend oral steroids to bring inflammation under control faster. If flare-ups occur more often, a change in your regular medications may help.

Although COPD is a serious, chronic disease, it can be managed with medications and lifestyle changes. If you notice any breathing problems, the faster you identify the problem, the easier it will be to bring the condition under control.

Contact a pulmonologist like Edward S Pineles M.D. for more information.