The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Some parts of aging are just inevitable. Maybe you’re turning into your mother, or your hair is getting greyer, or you’re moving just a little bit slower. But what about difficulty breathing, constant coughing and shortness of breath that comes with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)? They are not normal symptoms of aging. It is a relief to know that COPD is not a normal sign of aging.
Why COPD is Not a Normal Sign of Aging
With aging, it is true that there is some airflow limitation. Peak pulmonary function happens around age 20, so from there we are all decreasing our airflow, albeit slowly and slightly. This happens due to the increasing rigidity of the chest wall as we age, and the decreasing elasticity of the lung. However, these changes are not very noticeable. When shortness of breath, constant coughing or other symptoms are present, then it is not just aging.
Too many people are silently living with COPD. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, estimates that there are about 12 million people diagnosed with COPD in the United States. Also, there is an estimated 12 million people living with undiagnosed COPD.
Check Your Symptoms
The following are signs of COPD:
- Shortness of breath
- A persistent cough (may be worse in the winter)
- Becoming winded walking up the stairs
Too many people dismiss their symptoms or simply put up with them. Many people write off their symptoms as:
- Regular aging
- Being out of shape
- Smoker’s cough
It is important to know the difference, but it can be difficult. This is because COPD is a progressive disease. It starts with a cough that won’t go away, which many dismiss as smoker’s cough. Later, shortness of breath occurs during normal activities like walking. These symptoms, unfortunately, are easy to ignore because they aren’t too severe. The cough may continue and produce mucus. Over time, the symptoms of coughing and shortness of breath worsen to the point that they are severe and limit activities.
If you have started giving up on your normal activities because of your breathlessness, then it’s time to see your doctor. Regular aging does not mean that you are unable to walk up a flight of stairs without feeling like you’re going to pass out.
Many people are scared to seek a diagnosis, but the sooner you are diagnosed, the sooner your quality of life can improve. If you have any symptoms similar to the above, and especially if you’ve had them for a few years, it’s important to get checked.