Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease causes airways to thicken and makes breathing difficult.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term that describes lung diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema that cause swelling and thickening of the airways. The swelling restricts your airflow, damages your airways and limits your lung capacity, which makes it difficult for you to breathe.

COPD is caused by long-term exposure to substances that damage the lungs, primarily cigarette smoke. Other causes include fumes from chemicals, air pollution and dust. There’s no cure for COPD. It’s a leading cause of disability and the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.

The best way to prevent COPD is to quit smoking if you smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke.


You may not have symptoms of COPD until the disease has progressed. Symptoms usually become more severe over time. They include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Chronic cough
  • Excess mucus
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Blueness on your lips, or fingernail or toenail beds


Your doctor will examine you, take your medical history and perform tests to diagnose COPD, including:


At El Camino Health, your doctor will develop a treatment plan that focuses on relieving COPD symptoms, such as:

  • Medications – Both oral and inhaled, including bronchodilators (which relax muscles around the airways), anti-inflammatories (including steroids) and antibiotics. People with COPD are also advised to get flu and pneumonia vaccinations since COPD increases the risk of serious complications from these conditions.
  • Lifestyle changes – Such as smoking cessation, breathing exercises as part of pulmonary rehabilitation and nutritional support to ensure you get the calories and nutrients you need.
  • Supplemental oxygen – Therapy in which you're given oxygen through nasal prongs or a mask to help you breathe more oxygen.
  • Minimally invasive treatmentsBronchoscopic lung volume reduction (BLVR) for advanced emphysema.
  • Surgery – Including lung transplantation.

If you’re hospitalized with COPD, you may be asked to participate in our innovative 2 BREATHE Program, which offers personalized services to help you manage your condition and prevent complications.