COPD Awareness Month

Jessica Kelly, MPH, CHES
Health Educator
Livingston and Millburn Health Department
973-535-7961 ext. 227

November is National COPD Awareness Month

November is National COPD Awareness Month

COPD which stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease refers to conditions that cause lung damage or affect the lungs which make breathing difficult.  The two main types of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis.  Emphysema is a condition that is caused by damage to the air sacs in the lungs and chronic bronchitis causes airways to become irritated which forms mucus in the airways, therefore both conditions make it hard to breathe.  COPD has been ranked as the third leading cause of death in the United States.  Currently COPD affects over 15 million people in the United States and is more common in those over the age of 40.  There are also many people in the United States that have COPD but don’t know it yet, since the symptoms of the disease tend to get worse over time.


The primary cause of COPD is tobacco smoke, although long term exposure to lung irritants such as chemicals, air pollution, and second hand smoke can lead to COPD.  In some cases, those who have asthma develop COPD or those who have low levels of the alpha-1 antitrypsin protein which can affect the lungs.  While the primary risk factor for developing COPD is smoking, 25% of people with COPD never smoked.


The severity of COPD progresses slowly over time which can lead to complications and make everyday tasks more difficult.  Symptoms of COPD include coughing that may produce mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and low energy. Tasks such as climbing stairs, housework, or even just going for a walk can become difficult due to shortness of breath.  If symptoms become severe, which includes difficulty breathing and talking, feeling disoriented, rapid heartbeat and/or blue or gray fingernails and/or lips; emergency medical treatment should be sought.


There are steps that can be taken to prevent or delay complications of COPD.  Since smoking is the primary cause of COPD, never starting smoking or quitting smoking can help prevent COPD and its complications.  There are many support services and treatment options that can assist with quitting smoking.  Additionally, avoiding lung irritants such as chemicals, air pollution, dusts, and second hand smoke can help prevent or delay complications.  There is currently no cure for COPD although there are many treatments that can help relieve symptoms and slow the progression, such as medications and pulmonary rehabilitation.  Those with COPD are more likely to get pneumonia as well as experience complications from the flu and should speak to their doctor about getting vaccinated against the flu and pneumonia.  People who are experiencing symptoms of COPD or those who have COPD should speak to the doctor in regards to diagnosis and the best treatment options for them.  For more information on COPD visit