What Are the Early Warning Signs of COPD?

Medically Reviewed on 6/2/2022
Early Warning Signs of COPD
The major reason for COPD is cigarette smoking, which contributes to about 80 to 90 percent of all cases.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung diseases that cause gradual deterioration of lung function, resulting in breathing difficulties. A normal respiratory system consists of the large (trachea and bronchi) and small airways (bronchioles) and the alveolar sacs where the air exchange takes place.

The following changes occur in the case of patients with COPD over years:

  • The airways and air sacs in the lungs lose their elasticity, thus the air tends to be stagnant in the airways, causing overinflation of the lungs
  • The walls between the air sacs are destroyed
  • The airways become thick and inflamed
  • The airways become clogged due to more mucus production

4 early warning signs of COPD

Early signs of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be mild and are barely noticeable. The severity and symptoms of COPD can vary with people. Because of the progressive nature of the disease, symptoms often worsen over time.

  1. Chronic cough
    • A persistent or chronic cough that lasts longer than eight weeks is one of the primary symptoms seen in COPD. A person may experience a chesty cough that does not settle down on its own.
    • Coughing acts as a protective mechanism in response to irritants getting into the lungs and helps remove phlegm or mucus from the lungs. If a person has an ongoing cough, this may signify a problem with their lungs.
  2. Excess mucus production
    • Too much mucus production can be an early warning sign of COPD. Mucus helps keep the airways moist. It captures germs and irritants that get into the lungs.
    • Long-term exposure to irritants, such as tobacco smoke, pollution, and chemical fumes, can lead to excess mucus secretion and damage the lungs.
  3. Shortness of breath
    • The airway obstruction can make it more difficult for a person to breathe, which can lead to shortness of breath.
    • Initially, shortness of breath may only occur after exercise, but it can worsen over time. Some people manage their breathing difficulties by becoming physically less active, which can make them less physically fit.
  4. Tiredness
    • A person with COPD needs to take extra effort to breathe. This exertion can result in reduced energy levels and feeling tired all the time.


COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is the same as adult-onset asthma. See Answer

2 types of COPD

  1. Emphysema: Air sacs and the walls between them get damaged and lose their elasticity, impairing air exchange.
  2. Chronic bronchitis: The airway lining is constantly irritated and inflamed. This causes the airway lining to secrete more mucus and clog the airways.

What are the important causes of COPD?

The major reason for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is cigarette smoking, which contributes to about 80 to 90 percent of all COPD cases. However, this condition can affect people who had never smoked.

Other causes of COPD include:

  • Long-term exposure to chemical fumes or dust
  • Outdoor irritants, such as pollution
  • Alpha-1 deficiency (a rare genetic problem) makes the lungs more vulnerable to damage

Those with childhood asthma or occupational asthma have a higher risk of developing asthma in later life.

Medically Reviewed on 6/2/2022
Image Source: iStock image

American Lung Association. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd

Medline Plus. COPD. https://medlineplus.gov/copd.html