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COPD Myths

COPD Myths

Much like any disease (or anything really) out there, there are many myths that surround it. There are also a lot of half-truths as well that can be downright scary to anyone who is new to the disease and trying to navigate their new diagnosis. Here are some of the most common COPD myths that I have heard:

Only smokers (or former smokers) get COPD

This is the myth that I hear I hear most often. It is also the myth that is most often believed. It is true that people who smoke or have smoked in the past are more susceptible to getting COPD. However there 10-20% of people who are diagnosed with COPD who never smoked a day in their life. Second (and third) hand smoke can be a contributing factor to developing COPD, as does a person’s work environment. Long term exposure to harsh work environments, such as certain factory work and harsh chemicals can lead to developing COPD. While rare, a person can still develop COPD without any of the above mentioned. There is a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency that puts a person at a much higher risk for COPD. However this only accounts for around 5% of diagnosed COPD cases.

Only older people get COPD

While the vast majority of COPD is diagnosed in people in their 50s and 60s, it can be diagnosed in the 40s. In rare occasions, COPD can even be diagnosed in people in their 20s and 30s.

COPD is a death sentence

There are four stages of COPD, ranging from mild to very severe. COPD was once known as a terminal disease, but not anymore. Treatment which includes medications, oxygen and lifestyle changes can dramatically improve your quality of life. Being compliant with your treatment plan is key and chances are really good you will live a very long and fulfilling life as a person with COPD.

I can’t exercise because I have COPD

Exercise is so very important for all people, regardless if they have COPD or not. Many people with COPD are afraid of exercise and in turn don’t due to the fear that they will become short of breath or end up in a major flare. These feelings are absolutely valid! Exercising doesn’t mean going out and running a marathon. Start slow and don’t push yourself too hard too fast. Be sure to speak to your doctor about exercise and come up with an exercise plan that is tailored to you and your specific stage of COPD. Even if you are in the later stages of COPD, exercise is possible. Most exercise movements can be modified to your ability and there are simple movements that can even be done in a chair!

I already have COPD, so I don’t need to quit smoking

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Smoking causes irreversible lung damage. The longer you smoke, the more the damage compounds. It is never too late to quit smoking. It isn’t an easy feat to quit, but your body will thank you when you do.

These are just a few of the most common COPD myths and there are many more. My hope is that the more people talk about COPD and the more education that is out there these myths will diminish and only accurate information will be available. What are some myths surrounding COPD that you have heard or have believed in the past? I’d love to hear them!

Do you have experience with one of these myths? Tell us about it!

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.


  • luvmylife1948
    1 year ago

    I don’t smoke. My husband did for over 30yrs and I inhaled his smoke which makes me a passive smoker. I suffered with painful Bronchitis every year for over 50yrs. My husband ended up dying of MESOTHELIOMA. Cancer caused by working with asbestos. The Oncologist said that the smoking did not kill him. The Asbestos did despite smoking for 30yrs. After my husband died I got pneumonia and then whilst in hospital and near impossible to breathe I was diagnosed with COPD. I am not on any medication. I don’t have follow up appts. in the clinic. I guess I would have to become ill and end up in hospital and then I will know what stage I am at. So I guess it is not a myth to suppose that passive smokers get COPD.

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    1 year ago

    Thank you luvmylife1948 for sharing that! I’m so sorry you lost your husband. It is rather ironic that he got mesothelioma from an occupational hazard. Thirty years is a long time to breathe second-hand smoke; so I believe you’re right about “passive smoking and COPD”.

    It sounds like it was caught pretty early in your case. It’s great that you don’t have to be on medications at this point – long may that continue for you.

    Lyn (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi luvmylife1948 – as Lyn said, it sounds like you may have been diagnosed early and therefore, don’t have any symptoms that require medication and/or treatment. You may want to give some thought to following up with a pulmonologist too. While being treated for pneumonia, they may not have assessed you as completely and thoroughly as a new visit with a private specialist might have done. Again – something to give your consideration. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

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