A person with COPD will have the coughing and difficulties breathing typical of bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.
Other signs of COPD include:
- Redness of the skin because the capillaries are congested
- Fluid collecting in the lungs and airways and linings of the throat
- Production of a great deal of mucous and other secretions, sometimes including pus
- Enlarged glands
- Changes in the cells of the lungs and airways that can be seen with a microscope
People who have smoked more than 20 cigarettes a day for more than 20 years may develop a productive cough in their 40s or early 50s. Breathlessness during exercise or exertion usually doesn't become bad enough to see to a doctor until the COPD patient is in his or her 50s or mid-60s.
Gradually, patients may produce increasing fluid or mucus in their lungs or airways, initially occurring only in the morning.
Severe chest conditions (coughs, production of pus-filled fluid or mucus, wheezing, breathlessness and sometimes fever) may happen from time to time. As the disease gets worse, the time between severe bouts gets shorter. Late in the disease, these bouts may be so severe that the blood doesn't get enough oxygen and the person's skin turns bluish. The patient may develop a morning headache indicating too much carbon dioxide in their blood. There may also be a loss of weight.
Causes and Risk Factors
Some of the factors that make a person more likely to develop COPD are:
- Age. People are more likely to develop COPD as they get older
- Smoking cigarettes
- Gender. More men than women develop this condition
- Race. More whites than nonwhites develop COPD
- Education and employment. Generally, persons who work at blue-collar jobs and those who have fewer years of formal education are more likely to develop the condition
- Age and cigarette smoking account for more than 85% of the risk of developing COPD
It is not yet understood what the role of air pollution is in causing COPD. Working around airborne chemical fumes or biologically inactive dust may also lead to higher risk of developing COPD.