Why COPD causes breathlessness?

Fact Checked

COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a disorder that affects the lungs that leaves the individual breathless, tired and struggling to breathe properly. If an individual has COPD, the individual has difficulty in catching his/her breathe after exercising or walking. Shortness of breath or dyspnea occurs in COPD due to the damage on the lungs which diminishes their functionality. If you want to learn how to properly manage the condition, read here.

What is COPD?

It is important to note that COPD is a group of lung conditions. The two major conditions include emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Many individuals experience both conditions at the same time in which the disease is called COPD.

As a progressive disorder, COPD worsens over time. The damage caused by this condition is irreversible. Even with treatment, it cannot be cured. On the other hand, there are ways to slow down the progression of the disease and prevent damage to the lungs.

The early symptoms are often mistaken for generalized fatigue. When the condition has progressed, it is when the symptoms are evident. The common symptoms of COPD include the following:

If an individual has COPD, the individual has difficulty in catching his/her breath after exercising or walking.
  • Chest tightness and pain
  • Breathlessness
  • Coughing
  • Excess amount of mucus in the lungs
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Sputum when coughing
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Wheezing
  • Unexplained weight loss

How COPD damages the lungs

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema attacks the lungs in various ways. Emphysema destroys the walls that line the air sacs in the lungs. These sacs become enlarged while the air sac walls are destroyed, thus disrupting proper gas exchange. When the air sacs are damaged, the lungs could not hold and move as much air. Eventually, the individual could no longer engage in normal tasks due to increasing fatigue and breathlessness.

Bronchitis causes inflammation and irritates the lining of the airways. Over time, the lining becomes thick and stiff. The excess mucus is an issue since the airways could not clear themselves. Eventually, the airways become stiff and blocked by mucus which makes breathing difficult. In addition, the individual is out of breath faster than normal and feels tired more easily.

Prevention of breathlessness

Remember that COPD has no known cure. Treatment can slow down the progression and prevent damage. The treatments could not reverse the damage on the airways and lungs. Nevertheless, the individual might be able to maintain his/her regular activity.


Exercise can actually help strengthen the lungs which help build-up stamina and minimize episodes of breathlessness. Nevertheless, any exercise routine should not be done excessively. A doctor must be consulted so that a suitable workout plan can be created that is safe for the fitness level of the individual and will not worsen his/her condition.

Observe smart breathing

For those who have COPD, the doctor will refer the individual to a respiratory therapist. The therapist will teach the individual to preserve his/her breath when physically active. Exercises that will help regain breathing quickly are also taught in case the individual ends up breathless.

Stop smoking

Smoking is the main cause of COPD. The individual should quit smoking to help ease the symptoms of COPD.

Better air

Aside from cigarette smoke, other pollutants in the air can worsen the condition and leave the individual breathless. It is best to avoid paint fumes, car exhaust and household cleaning products.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The information posted on this page is for educational purposes only.
If you need medical advice or help with a diagnosis contact a medical professional

  • All firstaidcprmississauga.ca content is reviewed by a medical professional and / sourced to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

  • We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable websites, academic research institutions and medical articles.

  • If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate, out-of-date, or otherwise questionable, please contact us through our contact us page.