Frequently asked questions

about COPD

If you’ve been diagnosed with COPD, then you are sure to have many questions about the disease, the treatments available and how it might affect your life.

Below you will find the answers to many of the commonly asked questions about COPD.

Elderly gentleman wearing nasal canula
What is COPD?
COPD is a term that covers a number of progressive lung conditions that make breathing difficult, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema¹.
One of the main causes is prolonged exposure to cigarette smoke, especially if the smoke is inhaled. However, breathing in second hand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes and dust from the environment or workplace can also cause COPD².
What are the symptoms of COPD?
A chronic cough, one that lasts for several weeks withoutthe presence of other illness such as cold or flu, is the firstsign of COPD. The cough is usually worse early in themorning, and may be aggravated by exercise or smoke.Other typical symptoms include shortness of breath,wheezing, tightness in the chest and increased mucus (orphlegm) production ³⁻⁴.
What causes COPD?
One of the main causes of COPD is prolonged exposure tocigarette smoke, especially if the smoke is inhaled. Butbreathing in secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes or dust from the workplace also can cause thecondition².

These inhaled particles can cause the mucus glands thatline the bronchi to produce more mucus than normal. Inaddition, the inflammation that they trigger causes thewalls of the bronchi to thicken and swell. Environmentalfactors and genetics may also play a part in thedevelopment of COPD ²∙⁵.
How is COPD treated?
Although there is no cure for COPD, there are many effective treatments available to help you manage your symptoms and slow the progression of COPD, so that you can live an active life⁶.
Is COPD hereditary?
Genetics can play a part in the development of COPD, even if you have never smoked or been exposed to pollutants for an extended period of time. In particular, emphysema can be triggered by a deficiency in alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT), which is a protein that protects the lungs from the harmful effects of white blood cells in the lungs.
However, not everyone with COPD who has never smoked has a deficiency on AAT, so it is believed that there must be other genetic triggers for COPD⁷.
I've just been diagnosed, what next?
A diagnosis of COPD means that you can now take steps to actively manage your symptoms because living with COPD is not just about regular medical treatment. Eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise and learning how to avoid situations that make your symptoms worse can all help you enjoy an active life ⁶ ⁸ ⁹.
How can I manage my COPD?
Regular treatment and maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating a nutritious, balanced diet and taking regular exercise can help you to control your symptoms and slow the progression of COPD ⁶ ⁸ ⁹.

Preparing an action plan with your doctor will help you track your progress, understand when to take your medicines and when to seek further advice or emergency care¹⁰.
What practical thing can I do to help?

There are a number of things you can do that will greatly help you to manage your COPD ¹¹⁻¹²:

  • Stop smoking
  • Take regular exercise
  • Eat well and maintain a healthy weight
  • Practice breathing and relaxation techniques
  • Learn how to cough effectively
  • Recognize and avoid the factors that trigger flare-ups
  • Have an action plan for flare-ups
  • Take your medications as prescribed
  • See your doctor regularly, even if you feel well, and especially if you have any concerns
  • Find out if you qualify for pulmonary rehabilitation
How will my illness progress?
COPD has four stages, each one with different symptoms of increasing severity. However, by monitoring your symptoms and effectively managing them, it is possible to slow the progression of the disease and to enjoy a more active life ⁶∙¹³.
What should I do if I experience a flare-up?
The early warning signs of a flare-up can differ from person to person. However, there are some key signs (over and above an increase in shortness of breath, coughing and mucus production) that indicate the need to seek medical help. These include fever, increased use of rescue medication, a change in colour and/or amount of mucus, tiredness lasting more than one day and ankle swelling¹⁴.
What is Pulmonary Rehab?
Combining a program of exercise, education and support, pulmonary rehab can help you live more comfortably with COPD by increasing your capacity for exercise and improving your mobility. You’ll learn about effective breathing techniques, relaxation exercises, the use of medication and oxygen, good nutrition and travel tips, as well as how to avoid flare-ups and stay healthy.
Pulmonary rehab also provides an opportunity meet others with COPD to exchange experiences, provide mutual encouragement and increase determination to improve fitness levels and fight the disease¹⁵.


1. Web MD. What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?
Accessed on 4 August 2015

2. Web MD. 10 FAQs About Living With COPDWhat is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?
Accessed on 5 August 2015

3. Healthline. Six signs of COPD.
Accessed on 24 June 2015.

4. European Lung Foundation. Lung Factsheet: Living well with COPD.
Accessed on 19 June 2015.

5. Chronic Bronchitis
Accessed on 5 August 2015.

6. Healthline. COPD and You: Managing Your Symptoms. 
Accessed on 10 July 2015.

7. COPD Foundation:
Accessed on 23 June 2015.

8. Exercise and COPD: A Good Combination. 
Accessed on 20 May 2015.

9. Eating to Breathe Better. 
Accessed on 20 May 2015.

10. American Lung Association. Instructions for COPD MANAGEMENT PLAN.
Accessed on 15 May 2015.


11. COPD Foundation. Staying Healthy and Avoiding Exacerbations. 
Accessed on 3 August 2015.

12. Minimizing COPD Flareups.
Accessed on 3rd August 2015.

13. Healthline. COPD: Symptoms and Stages. 
Access on 6 June 2015.

14. Web MD. COPD: Handling a Flare-Up - Topic Overview.
Accessed on 5 August 2015.

15. American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR). Pulmonary Rehabilitation.
Accessed on 6 June 2015.