Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) is characterized by two lung diseases, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Both illnesses make the process of breathing more difficult and less efficient.
With chronic bronchitis, inflamed bronchioles are the main problem. The inflammation causes excessive mucus production, leading to a productive cough, followed by eventual scarring and thickening of the bronchial airway.
This process causes a persistent, ongoing cough. “Smoker’s cough” is a regular, bothersome, very productive cough that is characteristic of COPD. It can also cause the sensation of pressure in the chest, tightness, and a wheezing sound with breathing.
Emphysema has similar symptoms, although the cause is different. With emphysema, the cause of symptoms is the damage and eventual destruction of many of the small air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli. This makes oxygenation of the lungs, and thus the transfer of oxygen to the rest of the body, much more difficult.
With emphysema, a wheezing, hacking cough is common. A whistling or wheezing with breathing generally occurs. Shortness of breath results from the difficulty of obtaining sufficient oxygen, and thus the sufferer may take regular breaks when walking or climbing stairs.
While the damage caused by COPD cannot be reversed, there are treatments that can help. Bronchodilators are prescription steroids administered through inhalers that can open the airways, making breathing easier. These also decrease inflammation, effectively reducing mucus production and thus the incessant coughing. Eventually, many diagnosed with COPD will need oxygen therapy to help the lungs to breathe.