COPDCOPD Signs and Symptoms

Let's Talk About COPD Signs and Symptoms

Is it allergies? Aging? Or could your breathing troubles be a sign something more serious is going on? We asked the experts how to tell the difference.

    Our Pro PanelCOPD Symptoms

    We went to some of the nation's top experts in COPD to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

    Nereida A. Parada, M.D. headshot.

    Nereida A. Parada, M.D.Associate Professor of Medicine, Clinical Lead for Asthma and COPD

    Tulane School of Medicine, Tulane Asthma Center
    New Orleans, LA
    Paul Andrew Reyfman, M.D. headshot.

    Paul Andrew Reyfman, M.D.Assistant Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary and Critical Care

    Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
    Chicago, IL
    Byron Thomashow, M.D.  headshot.

    Byron Thomashow, M.D. Professor of Medicine, Co-Founder and Senior Medical Advisor

    Columbia University, COPD Foundation
    New York, NY
    Lung-shaped tree half on fire
    Special Report

    The Truth About COPD & Climate Change

    If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, it gets harder to breathe the hotter and more humid it gets. And thanks to climate change, the impact of those heat waves is only getting worse. We dig into the science and help you stay safe.

    Frequently Asked QuestionsCOPD Symptoms

    Is COPD always caused by smoking?

    Not always, but usually. About 75% of diagnosed cases are due to cigarettes. The other 25% are likely caused by exposure to secondhand smoke or other toxic chemicals due to your job or living with a smoker.

    Are dry coughs less likely to be caused by COPD?

    Actually, COPD coughs can either be dry or wet (meaning there is mucus involved). The most important clue as to whether your cough could indicate COPD is its duration. If it’s lasting two months or more, it’s time to see your doc.

    What does weight loss have to do with COPD?

    COPD can cause you to unintentionally shed pounds for two reasons. First, when your lungs aren’t working right, it can be 10 times more cumbersome to take a breath. All that extra effort burns a lot of calories. Secondly, when you can’t breathe, the act of eating is uncomfortable, causing a lot of people to cut back on meals. But you need energy to help fight the disease, so talk with your doctor about nutritional supplements if you’re struggling to keep weight on.

    It hurts to breathe when I exercise. Should I stop?

    Absolutely, 100% no. Working your lungs plays a critical role in keeping them strong, and the stronger they are, the better equipped you will be to fight back against your COPD. It’s not easy, we know. Ask your doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation—a program that sets you up with an exercise routine that is tailored to your level and lung abilities, and will also provide you with breathing exercises so you can work on expanding your lung capacity.

    Marjorie Korn

    Marjorie Korn

    Marjorie Korn is a health, medicine, and features writer based in New York City. She is also a Narrative Medicine instructor at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons.