Take a deep breath

Then imagine if you couldn't

Living with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) makes it difficult to breathe and everyday tasks can become a real challenge.

Around the world, COPD kills on average one person every ten seconds. Eighty million people have moderate to severe COPD.

In a world where more and more people are dying as a result of COPD, many more millions are disabled because of it.

November is COPD Awareness Month and 21 November is World COPD Awareness Day.

Why COPD awareness?

COPD is a common condition that mainly affects middle-aged or older adults who smoke.

In the UK, millions of people across the UK have COPD and don’t even know it. They struggle with their symptoms and have a lower quality of life. And because they are not receiving treatment, their condition is progressing quickly.

COPD awareness helps find the missing millions and help people get the treatment and support they deserve.

What is COPD exactly?

COPD describes a group of lung conditions that make it difficult to empty air out of the lungs because your airways have been narrowed. COPD is not a simple smoker's cough, but an under-diagnosed, life-threatening lung disease. It includes:

  • Emphysema – damage to the air sacs in the lungs
  • Chronic bronchitis – long-term inflammation of the airways
  • Refractory (non-reversible) asthma.

COPD is a progressive and currently incurable disease, but with the right diagnosis and treatment, there are many things you can do to manage your COPD and breathe better. People can live for many years with COPD and enjoy life.

With emphysema, the tiny, delicate air sacs in your lungs become damaged. The walls of the damaged air sacs become stretched and your lungs get bigger, making it harder to move your air in and out. Old air gets trapped inside the alveoli so there is little or no room for new air to go. With emphysema, it is harder to get oxygen in and carbon dioxide out.

Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation of the breathing tubes  inside your lungs. Tiny hair-like structures line your airways and sweep mucus up, keeping your airways clean. When these structures are damaged, they cannot do this, so it becomes harder for you to cough up mucus. This can make your airways swollen and clogged. These changes limit airflow in and out of your lungs, making it hard to breathe.

Refractory (non-reversible) asthma is a type of asthma that does not respond to usual asthma medications. In an asthma attack, bronchial airways tighten up and swell. Medications can usually reverse this, opening up the airways and returning them to how they were before the asthma attack. In refractory asthma, medications cannot reverse the tightening and swelling of the airways.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

It’s easy to think of shortness of breath and coughing as a normal part of aging, but these could be signs of COPD. That’s why it is important to talk with your GP or OH provider as soon as you notice any of these symptoms. COPD can progress for years without noticeable shortness of breath. Symptoms of COPD can be different for each person, but common symptoms are:

  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Frequent coughing (with and without mucus)
  • Increased breathlessness
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest.

Find out more about World COPD Day and COPD Awareness Month.