Most patients won’t notice symptoms of COPD until the condition has caused major lung damage. Symptoms will usually get worse over time, especially if the patient continues to be exposed to smoking or other lung irritants.
Generally, the first symptom a patient with COPD will have is 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 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
- Blue tint to skin around the lips or fingernails
- Frequent respiratory infections
People who have smoked more than 20 cigarettes a day for more than 20 years may begin to cough up mucus 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 their 50s or mid-60s.
Gradually, patients may produce more and more fluid or mucus in their lungs or airways.
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 fits gets shorter.
Late in the disease, these fits 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 that indicates too much carbon dioxide in their blood. There may also be a loss of weight.
Causes and Risk Factors
COPD is most commonly caused by tobacco smoke. It mostly affects adults, with symptoms appearing between the ages of 30 and 40 years old. Age and cigarette smoking account for more than 85% of the risk of developing COPD.
In rare cases, the condition can develop in younger patients when it is associated with Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (A1AD).
COPD affects more men than women and is most frequently diagnosed in Caucasian people.
It is not yet understood what the role of air pollution is in causing COPD. But working around large amounts of various chemical fumes, such as welding fumes, or various dusts, such as mineral dust, may put you at greater higher risk of developing COPD.