Non-Smoker? You Could Still Be At Risk for COPD

By Reyna Gobel

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a progressive disease that makes breathing difficult, occurs most often in smokers over age 45. However, according the National institutes of Health (NIH), as many as one in six individuals with COPD have never smoked cigarettes.

While presently there is no cure for COPD, early detection can reduce the severity of symptoms. Without diagnosis, patients won’t get advice from their doctors on healthy lifestyle choices and information on prescribed medications to reduce the disease’s severity of symptoms.

The only way to diagnose COPD early is through through a simple, non-invasive test called spirometry, in which patients exhale deeply into a tube connected to a machine that provides a reading of lung function, according to the NIH.

Anyone—even non-smokers—exhibiting symptoms of COPD should be tested, according to the NIH website. “Coughing, shortness of breath, excess sputum or phlegm production, and other signs of respiratory difficulty are good indications that a physician should be consulted,” noted Dr. James Kiley on the site.

Beyond exhibiting symptoms, individuals with exposure to these environmental pollutants should also get tested:

  • Exposure to gases, dusts or fumes in the workplace. An example is someone working in dusty construction sites.
  • Exposure to heavy amounts of secondhand smoke and pollution. For example, family members of smokers may be at risk if the smoker in the household smokes indoors.
  • Those who frequently use fire to cook with without proper ventilation, such as a cook in a restaurant.

People who think they might be at risk for COPD should get tested as soon as possible by their physician. Early detection can be key in sustaining a higher quality of life.