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COPD is usually caused by years of smoking

“Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is usually caused by years of habitual smoking,” says Ali Al-Himyary, M.D., a board-certified physician specializing in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic.

Dr. Al-Himyary says that COPD can present singularly or as a combination of two diseases: chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

“In chronic bronchitis, the airways of the lungs become inflamed and narrowed, making breathing difficult,” he says. “With emphysema, the air sacs that exchange oxygen in the lungs are also damaged, leading to coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.”

Though smoking remains the most common cause of COPD, breathing chemical fumes, dust particles or polluted air over an extended period of time may also increase the risk of developing the disease.

“Since it usually takes years for the lung damage to exhibit noticeable symptoms, COPD appears more often in people 60 years or older,” he says.

Dr. Al-Himyary says that COPD symptoms tend to worsen over time.

“For the most part, this kind of lung damage can’t be undone,” he says. “However, there are positive lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, which can prevent further damage.”

If you think you might have COPD, Dr. Al-Himyary advises seeing your doctor to discuss testing and possible therapy.

“A pulmonologist can prescribe medicines, treatments and lifestyle modifications that may help you breathe easier,” concludes Dr. Al-Himyary, who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s St. Luke’s Medical Tower and The Woodlands Clinic locations.