Smoking and COPD: The Inexorable Link That Could Leave You Gasping for Air

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death in the United States. What’s even more shocking is that COPD is almost entirely preventable. Up to 90-percent of all COPD cases are directly linked to smoking, which means that quitting smoking is the best way to avoid this debilitating disease.

How Smoking Causes COPD

COPD, also known as chronic bronchitis or emphysema, develops over time and through repeated exposure to irritants and pollutants, such as smoke, dust, fumes and air pollution. The pollutants damage the walls located between the air sacs found in your lungs. When the walls become too damaged, they erode or break open, creating one large air sac. All of this damage lessens the number of air sacs you have, which can make breathing difficult. The walls may also become inflamed and/or weak, which can make it even harder to breathe.

The Progressive Nature of COPD

COPD is a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse over time. At first, the symptoms are merely aggravating. You may cough or become short of breath while doing physical activity. Over time, however, you may have difficulty catching your breath or finding enough breath to talk. You may have trouble concentrating and start to turn gray, especially around your lips and fingernails. Eventually, you may need constant oxygen support.

Quitting Smoking Improves Your Prognosis

While COPD will never get better, you can slow the progression of the disease if you quit smoking. Quitting is especially helpful if you do it during the early stages of the disease. Unfortunately, though, nearly 39-percent of people continue to smoke after they receive a COPD diagnosis. Smoking accelerates the damage, which will make you very sick in a short amount of time.

Smoking and COPD are inexorably linked. If you don’t want to develop COPD or if you have COPD and don’t want it to get worse, the best thing you can do is stop smoking today.