Ask the Expert About Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

By News Canada

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Spring is in the air and flowers are abloom, but for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the warmer weather does not end the risk of suffering from a lung attack. Dr. Chapman, a respirologist at University Health Network, shares his expert advice.

Q: Dear Dr. Chapman: My husband lives with COPD, but some days are better than others. This spring, he's had a lot of coughing fits and I'm wondering if we should be concerned or if it's normal with the change in weather. How much coughing is too much?

A: People living with COPD, a chronic disease, may have a daily cough, but if this cough changes, especially if day-to-day breathlessness increases, alarm bells should ring. It could be the beginning of a lung attack, which can potentially lead to hospitalization, restricted mobility and can increase the risk of death.

Many of our patients with COPD have avoided crowds and family gathering during the cold months, reducing their exposure to viruses. But risk of a lung attack doesn't end when the weather warms and the days get longer. About a third of lung attacks occur during the warm weather months, and such warm weather lung attacks seem to last as long and require hospitalization as often as cold weather lung attacks.

People with COPD should watch for the following signs and symptoms of a lung attack and tell their doctor if they notice any:

• Unusual change in phlegm or mucus (colour, volume, consistency)

• Unusual increase in shortness of breath, cough or wheezing

• Cold symptoms that won't go away

• Chest tightness

• Needing to sleep sitting up rather than lying down, difficulty sleeping because of breathing issues

• Morning headaches, dizziness, restlessness or confusion

My advice is that your husband should talk to his doctor to discuss his symptoms and to ask if his medication dosages need to be adjusted or if he needs to take additional medication to deal with his aggravated condition. If your husband is suffering from a lung attack, the sooner he takes action the better to help prevent permanent damage to his lungs.

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