Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

8 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About COPD

I have now been a respiratory therapist for 21 years. During these years I have taken care of many people with COPD. Some I have even gotten to know quite well. It is through these experiences that I have compiled this list:

8 things I wish everyone knew about COPD

1. You can live a long, productive life with COPD. I have known people who have lived 20 plus years with COPD. Your chances of living a long life with COPD increase if you see a doctor and follow your doctor’s advice. You may have to make some changes, you may look at life from a new perspective, but you can do it.

2. Some people have it but don’t know it. According to the National Heart And Blood Institute, 12 million Americans have COPD but don’t know it. Many of these are people I meet for the first time when they are having their first flare-ups. When I interview them, many say they choked feeling short of breath to the aging process.

3. The earlier you seek help the better. I mentioned above that I sometimes meet COPDers in the ER during their first flare-ups. Many of these patients have to be admitted to the hospital. Often I hear their doctors say, “If you had come in sooner you might be able to go home now. This is because the sooner you come in, the easier it is to fix you.” So, this is my reminder to you that if you even think you might need help, better to seek it now than to wait.

4. It often features early warning symptoms. These may be subtle changes such as a change in the color of your sputum. They may include increased fatigue, shortness of breath, or coughing. These are warnings that flare-up is impending, and actions you take right now can prevent it.

5. A COPD action plan can help you decide what to do. This is a plan you work on with your doctor. It helps you decide what actions to take when you experience early warning symptoms. These actions may include using rescue medicine or taking oral steroids. They also let you know when to call your doctor or 911.

6. Most cases are preventable. Studies show that 75% of COPD cases were preventable. This is why it is so important to get the word out to children early in life about the dangers of smoking cigarettes. I cannot even relay to you how many times I have had someone with COPD say to me, “Don’t smoke!” or “I hope you don’t smoke!” or “Don’t let your kids smoke!

7. Smoking is not the only cause of COPD. Studies show that almost 25% of people with COPD never smoked. For example, inhaling chemicals or pollution in the air at your work can cause COPD. This is why efforts are ongoing to learn what occupations are hazardous to your lungs. Efforts to improve air quality at these jobs may prevent COPD. If this is not possible, wearing protective gear, such as masks, may prevent COPD.

8. One type of COPD is genetic. Trypsin is a protein that breaks down dead and decaying lung tissue. Anti-trypsin is a protein that breaks down trypsin. These work together to make sure trypsin levels stay at healthy levels. A mutation in the alpha-1 antitrypsin gene causes a depletion of antitrypsin. This causes trypsin levels to become elevated. When this happens, trypsin gets carried away and starts to break down healthy lung tissue. Less than three percent of COPDers have this gene.

So, these are eight things I wish everyone knew about COPD. What is something you wish everyone knew about COPD?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Linda
    2 years ago

    I am so glad I saw this post. I just joined this site yesterday and so far all I’m reading is negative and sad stories. I quit smoking almost 4 years ago after nearly 50 years of smoking. Diagnosed with c.o.p,d. (coughed for years and ignored it) then emphysema. At the time I quit smoking I was feeling pretty good and could still do everything for myself but slowly it all got worse and I’m now considered ‘serious’ (stage 3).

    I admit I get depressed especially in the winter time. I also get anxiety so bad sometimes I can’t leave the house, even for doctor appointments. I must be in just the right frame of mind to walk out this door and get into the car. It’s awful some days BUT I also have good days where I breath easy and can do a little more than the day before. Which makes me want to try harder the next time. After I come back from a doctor visit like today (went for my fly shot) I feel pretty good about myself which helps build my confidence in myself. I even put on some makeup and did my hair and nails today. It took me longer to do than normal but the way it made me feel was worth it. My doctor told me I looked 20 years younger which made my day! (Weather he really meant it or not)

    So my advice is…..don’t give up on yourself. Keep trying, no matter how little. Do something, anything. You really can live a long and productive life.

    2 years ago

    I wish that people understood that smoking does not in fact cause COPD!! Only 1 in 4/5 smokers will get COPD. Research in the past 5+ years has found that smoking is only one of many triggers that turn on a particular genome without which all the smoking in the world will not result in COPD. This explains why you see people 90 years of age hopping on down the road with a cigarette in their mouth. Well, perhaps, not hopping but certainly not affected. It used to be that it was said these people, who were in fact the majority of smokers, were just undiagnosed. As long as we don’t turn around and with respect, stand up to those that ask if we smoked or uninformed professionals who just assume the same and respond that it’s all genetic roulette, the world in general will continue to believe it’s all about smoking. Is that what was more clearly seen through the ages as COPD to be familial? No, Instead it was assumed that it was because the family were smokers. It’s no different than so many diseases that were misread historically. This is a very long discussion but I believe we as a community and the professionals who treat us need to start reviewing where science has led us today.

  • Poll