There are a number of different types of lung disease that can prevent your lungs from working properly, and unfortunately, they’re more common than you might expect. According to WebMD, tens of millions of people in the U.S. have some type of lung disease. In fact, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third-leading cause of death in the country, per the American Lung Association (ALA). Early detection for this condition is key in preventing death, but most people don’t recognize certain signs as symptoms until they’re too far along in their disease for recovery. That’s why it’s important to be aware of all the signs of COPD, which can seep into your everyday activities—even when you’re just talking. Read on to find out if you should ask your doctor about having your lungs checked.
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If you notice changes in your voice, you may have COPD.
Your voice might sound different as you get older, but certain changes could also be a sign of something more concerning. Leann Poston, MD, a licensed physician and health expert for Invigor Medical, says voice changes such as hoarseness and breathlessness are both common signs of COPD, a lung condition that results in inflammation and irritation of your airways.
“With swollen airways, it is difficult to generate enough airflow to have a normal voice quality,” Poston explains. She says that the inflammation from COPD can also cause swelling and abnormal mucus covering on your vocal cords.
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You should get your lungs checked as soon as possible.
If you notice these vocal changes, your lungs are likely already in trouble. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of COPD “often don’t appear until significant lung damage has occurred.” Poston says you should talk to your doctor about getting your lungs checked if you notice these changes in your voice, as well as if you experience a chronic cough, persistent wheezing, or shortness of breath.
Other symptoms of COPD include mucus production, chest tightness, lack of energy, unintended weight loss, and swelling in ankles, feet or legs, per the Mayo Clinic. Your symptoms will likely come in waves during “episodes called exacerbations,” where symptoms become worse for a few days at a time than what you otherwise experience day to day.
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COPD is a treatable disease, but it is significantly underdiagnosed.
According to Poston, COPD is a progressive disease that will probably get worse over time if left untreated. The Mayo Clinic says doctors generally use a series of treatment methods for COPD, from various medications to lung therapies and possibly even surgery. “Early diagnosis and treatment can help preserve your lung function,” Poston advises.
But because patients don’t necessarily realize their symptoms are related to COPD, this lung disease is also significantly underdiagnosed. A 2018 review published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine looked at community-based population studies from North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia, finding that the studies collectively suggest that around 70 percent of those with COPD worldwide may be undiagnosed.
Untreated COPD can cause you to have other long-term health complications.
Damage from COPD can go beyond just the lungs. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, people with COPD are at increased risk for many other health conditions. With COPD, you’re more likely to have repeat infections such as pneumonia and more complications if you get certain sicknesses, like a cold or the flu. You’re also more at risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and lung cancer if you already have COPD. More than 150,000 people die from COPD or resulting health conditions every year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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