Is It a Cough or Early COPD?

Dealing with a cough can be frustrating. There’s nothing worse than hacking through a movie, having to excuse yourself from the table when at dinner with friends, or not being able to sleep because you can’t stop coughing. 

And if your cough has been lingering for a while, you might be concerned something more serious is going on. But knowing if your cough is “just a cough” or if you’re one of over 15 million Americans suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) isn’t always easy.

At Girard Internal Medicine, we understand the frustration a lingering cough can bring. Nicole Kimzey, DO, and our compassionate team are dedicated to providing comprehensive care to patients in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, including patients suffering from chronic conditions, like COPD. 

To help you learn the difference between a cough and early COPD, we’ve curated this informative guide. Read on to learn more!

What is a cough?

A cough is simply your body’s way of responding to an irritant. When something irritates your throat or airways, the nerves signal the brain to push air out of the lungs and through the airways to get rid of it. 

Everyone coughs at one time or another, and while coughs can be annoying, they’re actually an important part of your body’s natural healing process. For example, if you’re suffering from a virus or infection that creates mucus, coughing actually clears your airways helping you breathe easier. Other common causes include:

Most coughs go away on their own as your body heals. But coughs that hang around and don’t seem to go away can be signs of an underlying medical condition, like COPD.   

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a chronic disease of the lungs. The chronic inflammation caused by COPD creates obstructed airflow, making it hard to breathe.

The number one cause of COPD is smoking, but nonsmokers are also at risk of developing COPD. Risk factors include chronic exposure to secondhand smoke, pollution, lines of work that involve exposure to fumes or particles (e.g., sawdust; aerosolized particles), chronic infection. 

People often go undiagnosed with COPD because they dismiss or don’t know the early warning signs of the disease. Unfortunately, without treatment COPD can be deadly. In fact, it’s the third leading cause of death by disease in America. 

But COPD isn’t a silent disease, and there are things you can watch for to determine if you might be one of the millions of Americans suffering from this disease. Early warning signs and symptoms include:

As COPD develops, you may experience additional symptoms, such as a chronic cough with mucus, wheezing, swelling in your lower extremities, cyanosis (blue tinge in your lips or fingernail beds, and weight loss.   

How can I tell if my cough is early COPD?

Since it can be tricky to know the difference between a lingering cough and COPD, it’s important to obtain an accurate diagnosis from a trained medical expert, like Dr. Kimzey. To determine whether you’re suffering from COPD, Dr. Kimzey reviews relevant lifestyle factors, such as smoking history or exposure to irritants, and reviews your medical and family history. 

COPD is frequently misdiagnosed, particularly in past smokers. As such, Dr. Kimzey may also want to rule out other lung conditions that have similar symptoms by ordering additional tests, including X-ray, lab work, CT scan, pulmonary function, and arterial blood gas analysis.

If you are diagnosed with COPD, Dr. Kimzey designs a plan to help manage your symptoms and reduce your risk of complications. The first step in treating COPD is to stop smoking. Other treatments may include different medications to treat the inflammation and improve breathing, oxygen therapy, and pulmonary rehabilitation. 

Ready to learn more about cough and COPD?

If you’ve got a nagging cough and are worried about COPD, don’t wait. Contact our Philadelphia office to learn more about COPD symptoms, diagnosis, and symptom management.

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