Cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing are common COPD symptoms. In some case, symptoms may suddenly become worse -- this will depend on how much of the lung has been destroyed. If you are a smoker, the lung destruction is faster than if you stop smoking. If symptoms of COPD become severe -- such as a fast heartbeat or fingernails turning blue or gray -- immediate medical treatment is necessary.
Most people with COPD are at least 40 years old or around middle age when symptoms begin. It is unusual, but possible, for people under 40 years of age to have COPD symptoms as well.
When present, common signs and symptoms of COPD may include:
- Sputum (mucus) production
- Shortness of breath, especially with exercise
- Wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe)
- Chest tightness.
A cough that doesn't go away and coughing up lots of mucus are common COPD symptoms. These often occur years before the flow of air in to and out of the lungs is reduced. However, not everyone with cough and sputum production goes on to develop COPD, and not everyone with COPD has a cough.
The severity of symptoms depends on how much of the lung has been destroyed. If you continue to smoke, the lung destruction is faster than if you stop smoking.
People with COPD may find their symptoms suddenly getting worse. If this happens, you have a much harder time catching your breath. You may also have:
- Chest tightness
- More coughing
- A change in your sputum
- A fever.
You should call your healthcare provider if you have any of these worsening symptoms. Your healthcare provider will look at things that might be causing these symptoms of COPD to suddenly worsen. Sometimes, the symptoms are caused by a lung infection. Your healthcare provider may want you to take an antibiotic that helps fight off the infection. He or she may also recommend additional medications to help with your breathing, such as bronchodilators and glucocorticosteroids.
For certain severe COPD symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend that you spend time in the hospital. These symptoms include:
- You have a lot of difficulty catching your breath
- You have a hard time talking
- Your lips or fingernails turn blue or gray
- You are not mentally alert
- Your heartbeat is very fast.
Home treatment of worsening symptoms will most likely not help.