Early Warning Signs of COPD in Seniors

COPDIt is common for seniors with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) to not notice the early signs; or blame them on other ailments/lifestyle decisions such as smoking or being out of shape. Symptoms of COPD usually develop gradually over a number of years. Because of this, it’s not unusual for seniors to ignore the signs and simply live with the symptoms, at least at first. By the time patients realize that they’re in trouble, a lot of damage has already been done.  That is why it is important for the loved ones of an older adult to watch for these signs and take action.

Ongoing Coughing, but not feeling sick

One of the first signs of COPD is a persistent cough that’s often worse in the morning. It may be exactly like the cough you typically get with the flu, except you don’t have a fever or any other symptoms. Coughing is the normal reaction of the lungs to remove mucus or protect themselves from inhaled irritants such as smoke from a cigarette. If a senior in your life has a chronic cough this should be checked out by their physician even if they are a smoker.

Shortness of Breath

Often one assumes that shortness of breath comes from being out of shape or overweight. While this can be a cause, COPD can also cause shortness of breath. For many, this shortness of breath or a feeling of breathlessness may only occur when they are performing strenuous activities. Unfortunately, people try to avoid this feeling by doing fewer activities or activities less often.  This can lead to losing muscle tone and getting in worse shape which can lead to additional breathlessness while doing the same activity. Initially, breathlessness may occur only with increased physical activity, but in later stages of the disease, it may appear with increasing frequency, even without exertion.

Fatigue or Feeling Tired

Fatigue, or tiredness, is another common symptom in people with COPD. A loss of energy or stamina may often accompany other moderate COPD symptoms such as breathlessness and wheezing because of the exertion involved. Fatigue associated with COPD may be very uncomfortable. Tiredness, like breathlessness, can be prevented or reduced by keeping active and learning how to do activities with less effort. If your loved one has a general loss of energy that keeps them from engaging in the activities that they enjoy, this could be a sign of COPD.


If your loved one hears a wheezing sound or a whistling or squeaking noise when they breathe as well as a feeling of tightness in their chest, this can be one of the signs of COPD. Wheezing results from breathing through narrow, obstructed airways. Inflammation and irritation from years of smoking and can lead to excess mucus that obstructs airways and causes spasms that narrow them. Wheezing may also indicate that an infection has developed in your lungs. This symptom can be so prevalent in someone with COPD that it’s possible to hear a wheezing or whistling sound even without a stethoscope. The noise is high-pitched, much like the wind when it whistles through cracks in walls. The wheezing can occur during inhalation, exhalation, or both.

Increased Mucus

In COPD, coughing usually goes hand-in-hand with a second early-stage symptom: the production of a large amount of excess mucus or phlegm. If a senior adult in your life does have COPD, they may produce up to three times the normal amount of mucus daily. This is a by-product of the lungs attempting to protect themselves by trapping inhaled particles. Generally, a change in the colour and the amount of sputum is a sign that there is some abnormal activity in your lungs. The mucus associated with COPD may also be clear or yellow, but it’s likely to be thicker. And it may be greenish, brownish, or have blood in it — signs of a worsening condition.

Not everyone who has COPD shows these symptoms—and not everyone who has these symptoms has COPD. Although only a doctor can diagnose COPD, these are certain warning signs that you can surely look out for in your loved ones.

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