lung X-ray
Small Cell Lung Cancer

Understanding Lung Problems

Lupe has smoked for over 45 years. This year she started having trouble keeping up with her 3-year-old grandson without gasping for air. She can no longer work in her garden without having coughing fits. Sometimes Lupe feels out of breath strolling through the market. Yet, Lupe was surprised when her doctor said she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Every day you breathe in and out nearly 20,000 times. That’s a lot of work for your lungs. Over time your likelihood of having a serious lung problem increases, especially if you smoke.

Lung problems that are more common among older people include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Lung cancer

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is a disease that makes it hard to breathe. There are two main types of COPD: emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Symptoms Of COPD

Shortness of breath is one of the most common symptoms of COPD. People who have COPD may feel like their chest is so tight that they cannot breathe. They may cough a lot. The coughing may or may not produce sticky, slimy mucus. COPD can also cause wheezing.

These problems develop slowly and get worse over time. For example, at first someone with COPD might only have trouble catching his or her breath when being physically active. But over time, the shortness of breath may occur even when resting. COPD can lead to other problems like creating strain on the heart, which can result in swollen ankles, feet, or legs. In advanced stages of COPD, people can have blue lips because they do not have enough oxygen in their blood.

In older adults, COPD can sometimes be confused with asthma. If you have shortness of breath, wheezing, or other problems breathing, your doctor will be able to tell if you have COPD, asthma, or another condition.

Causes Of COPD

COPD is often caused by smoking. Breathing secondhand smoke (someone else’s smoke), air pollution, chemical fumes, a lot of dust, or other things that bother the lungs and airways over time can also cause COPD. Some people may have a genetic condition that increases their chance of getting COPD.

Tests For COPD

If you have symptoms of COPD, see your doctor right away. Your doctor may test your lungs and how well you breathe, look at your lungs, or do other exams. Your doctor might also send you to a pulmonologist, a doctor who specializes in lung problems.

Treatment For COPD

There is no cure for COPD. But, there are things people with COPD can do to feel better. Most important, do not smoke. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. If you stop smoking, you may breathe more easily and could add years to your life. It’s never too late to quit smoking!