Smoker’s Cough Can Be a Sign of COPD: Quit Smoking Now!
Some people mistakenly confuse the initial signs of COPD with “growing old.” Here’s what to look for.
Some people mistakenly confuse the initial signs of COPD with “growing old.” Here’s what to look for.(Photo: iStockphoto)
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Smoker’s Cough Can Be a Sign of COPD: Quit Smoking Now!

However bad you thought smoking was, it’s even worse.

If you are a smoker, I’m not here to judge you. There are way too many reasons why people smoke, nicotine is one helluva addictive substance, making it hard to stop even if you want to.

But now research says, if a smoker is wheezing it could be an early sign of COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

So if quitting smoking is your resolution for the coming new year, here’s another solid health reason to stay committed.

Smoker’s Cough

The early symptoms of COPD are coughing, bringing up sputum and breathlessness even in mildly strenuous exercises.
The early symptoms of COPD are coughing, bringing up sputum and breathlessness even in mildly strenuous exercises.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

COPD is like a sunburn of your air passages. When cells are exposed to toxic substances for long periods, they tend to get swollen. In COPD, they get inflamed to the point of blocking the air flow.

The early symptoms are coughing, bringing up sputum and breathlessness even in mildly strenuous exercises.

Chronic bronchitis, a type of COPD is most observed in smokers. In this case, patients develop chronic cough with expectoration. This is a sign enough that the lungs aren’t functioning normally, says Dr Rajesh Chawla, Senior Consultant - Respiratory and Critical Care, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals.

Smokers Must Get Screened Early for COPD

As per a study in PubMed Central (PMC), COPD develops in about 10%–20% of the smokers.

It estimates that deaths from COPD will rise by more than 20% in the coming decade unless immediate action is taken to curb the use of tobacco.

Yet, there is limited awareness on the disease and the dangers it poses.

While genes might play some role in the disease, COPD is largely caused by smoking.

Dr Rajesh Chawla says that the sooner the smokers get themselves screened, the better it is since early diagnosis and treatment can help them manage their condition better.

Even If You Quit Smoking, You Are Never in the Clear

Smokers often dismiss the early signs of COPD as smoker’s cough and continue to smoke. That’s how the disease progresses and becomes worse.
Smokers often dismiss the early signs of COPD as smoker’s cough and continue to smoke. That’s how the disease progresses and becomes worse.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

About 30 to 40% of all smokers end up getting COPD, according to the Public Health Foundation of India.

So if you quit smoking, will your chances of getting COPD be reduced? Sadly, that’s not how it works.

Lung capacity decreases with age normally but this decline is faster in COPD patients. And COPD in smokers worsens the situation even further. So if you stop smoking, the decline in lung function will become slower but still won’t be at par with that of a healthy, non-smoker.
Dr Rajesh Chawla

Dr Chawla further explains that the risk of developing COPD in smokers also depends a lot on the individual’s medical history, how many years had she/he been smoking for, how many packets of cigarettes etc. Even if you don’t smoke for a couple of years, the risk might still be high.

So, unfortunately you might never be in the clear.

But the good news is that once diagnosed, COPD is treatable.

Dr Chawla urges all smokers to get themselves screened soon. Pulmonary function tests (PFTs) will assist in the diagnosis of COPD.

As part of the pulmonary function tests (PFTs), one can also undergo the bronchodilator test. It uses a spirometer and a bronchodilator which assist in the diagnosis of asthma and COPD by measuring the reversibility with the help of an inhaled bronchodilator.  
Dr Rajesh Chawla  

Other tests may include a chest x-ray, CT scan, arterial blood gas analysis along with other laboratory tests which may help figure if they are any other complications.

So if you are a smoker, take this as a sign for quitting permanently - even if you get the diagnosis in the future, a non-smoker will manage it better and for longer.

(FIT is running a month-long campaign to increase awareness around chronic lung diseases. If you have any questions on COPD, write in to us at FIT@thequint.com. We’ll get our experts to answer your queries for you. For more information on COPD, call 1800 208 2882.)

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