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Chronic Lung Disease Tied to Smoking
“Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is usually caused by years of habitual smoking,” says Ali Al-Himyary, MD, MPH, a board-certified physician specializing in Pulmonary 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 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,” says Dr. Al-Himyary. He also 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.”