What Is COPD and Who Is at Risk?

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What Is COPD and Who Is at Risk?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a prevalent respiratory condition that affects millions of Americans. Unfortunately, it’s a progressive disease for which there is no cure. However, early diagnosis and treatment can help manage COPD and its effects on your quality of life.

Our team at Allergy A.R.T.S. in Amarillo, Texas, specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions that affect your respiratory health. We’re happy to provide information about COPD, its risk factors, and the populations most vulnerable to developing this condition.

Understanding COPD

COPD is a chronic lung disease characterized by airflow obstruction, making breathing difficult.

The two main conditions associated with COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis involves inflammation and narrowing of the airways, causing mucus buildup that makes it hard to get air into or out of your lungs.

Emphysema damages the air sacs in the lungs, reducing their elasticity and ability to exhale carbon dioxide and deliver oxygen to the bloodstream.

Symptoms of COPD usually develop gradually and progress over time and may include:

  • Shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness
  • Chronic cough with sputum (mucus) production that may be clear, white, or yellow
  • A decline in overall energy and eventually extreme fatigue
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Swelling in ankles or feet that’s not relieved by elevating your legs
  • Shortness of breath when lying flat

You may also experience episodes of worsening (exacerbations) when COPD symptoms become more severe for days.

What are the long-term health consequences of COPD?

Health complications associated with poorly managed COPD include an increased risk of:

  • Heart failure
  • Significant disability
  • Heart attack
  • Lung cancer
  • Depression

COPD can also cause high blood pressure in the arteries delivering blood to your lungs (pulmonary hypertension).

Who is at risk for COPD?

While COPD can affect anyone, certain factors increase the likelihood of developing the disease, including: 


Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD. The harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke irritate and inflame the lungs, gradually causing damage to the airways and lung tissue.

Environmental exposures

Prolonged exposure to air pollutants, such as dust, fumes, chemicals, and secondhand smoke, significantly increases the risk of developing COPD.

Occupational hazards, particularly in mining, construction, and manufacturing, expose workers to these harmful substances.

Genetic factors

A rare genetic disorder called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency predisposes individuals to early-onset COPD. Alpha-1 antitrypsin is a protein that protects the lungs, and a deficiency of this protein can lead to lung damage.


COPD is more common over 40, and the risk increases with age. This is likely due to cumulative exposure to risk factors over time and the natural aging process.

Respiratory infections

Frequent respiratory infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, can cause damage to the lungs, increasing your vulnerability to COPD.

Refractory asthma

Asthma, if not well-managed, can lead to persistent inflammation and lung damage, increasing your risk of developing COPD.

Fortunately, treatments for COPD, which may include medications, inhalers, and other therapies, can reduce its effects on your lungs and overall health.

Schedule a visit at Allergy A.R.T.S. today for more information about preventing and treating COPD. Call the office or request an appointment online.