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You might be living with COPD and not know it

15 November, 2017

CBHS members with Hospital cover have access to Better Living health management programs, providing personalised advice and guidance on how to manage living with COPD.

What is COPD?

COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – it refers to a group of progressive (getting worse over time) lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma.

An estimated 1.45 million Australians are living with some form of COPD, but due to the nature of the diseases, might not be aware they’re living with it.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

  • General shortness of breath or breathlessness after minimal exercise
  • A persistent cough, often with phlegm or mucus
  • Wheeze or noisy, obstructed breathing
  • Trouble catching your breath
  • Susceptibility to flu, colds and chest infections
  • Weight loss
  • Easily worn out
  • Leg, ankle or feet swelling

What causes COPD?

The biggest cause of COPD is smoking, and includes all forms of smoking (vaping, hookah/shisha etc).

Inhaling smoke damages lungs in a systematic way, destroying the parts of your lungs that help keep them healthy (like the cilia) and boosting areas that are dangerous when unregulated (increasing the size and number of mucus producing goblet cells).

However, non-smokers are still susceptible to COPD, with around 20% of people who ‘never smoked’ living with the affliction.

Another cause of COPD is exposure to lung irritants, like chemicals or heavy dust.

Am I at risk of COPD?

You are more at risk of developing COPD if you are:

  • A smoker
  • Have a family history of COPD
  • Work with chemicals or other lung irritants
  • Have asthma or other respiratory conditions
  • A woman (women generally have smaller lungs and are considered more susceptible)

How can I test for COPD?

You should approach a GP if you’d like to be screened for COPD.

They could suggest a chest x-ray, CT scan, or perform an arterial blood gas analysis or spirometer blow test.

Arterial blood gas analysis – this test measures both the pH and partial pressure of the oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. It gives an idea of the volume and richness of oxygen in the blood.

Partial pressure – The pressure exerted by a single gas in a mixture.

Spirometer test – a breathing test that measures the strength and capacity of your lungs. It’s as simple as blowing into a tube.

How can I manage COPD?

Lung damage is nearly always irreparable, but there are ways to slow progression and make beneficial changes for your lung health.

Give up smoking

It can be difficult for some to give up smoking as it’s addictive by design and has both personal and social associations.

Some might find it beneficial to replace smoking with another, healthier habit, like chewing gum or taking walks, and trying to curb behaviour that leads to the desire to smoke.

Leave or change lung-damaging environments

Your workplace and living spaces should be safe for you to occupy. If you think that where you work is affecting your lung health, it should be brought up immediately to your manager or HR team. You should also attempt to keep your home clear of dust build-up and, if you feel concerned, have it tested for radon or asbestos.

Improve your lung capacity

Exercising can help you increase your lung capacity (how much oxygen your lungs can use). This can help delay feelings of breathlessness and have a huge impact on the quality of your life. 

Find ways to manage living with COPD – start your Better Living program by calling 02 9685 7567 or emailing our Wellness Team at

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