Earlier discovery of a breathing problem and appropriate treatment can prevent lung disease from progressing to the point that it seriously affects the way you live and work.
Anyone who has a persistent cough, wheezing, chest tightness or shortness of breath, even if the symptom seems minor, should see the doctor. Morning cough, for example, is not normal. It is often the result of smoking and indicates that there is irritation and swelling within the lung. Shortness of breath while exercising, climbing stairs, or walking can also be a sign of a breathing problem. Many people simply feel that they are "out of shape," slowing down, or getting older when, in fact, they are working harder to breathe.
A spirometry test can tell whether your breathing is normal. It takes only a couple of minutes to blow into this machine, which can detect a change in your breathing ability even before you do. Fortunately, primary care providers have a spirometer in their offices. The next time you see your primary care provider, ask for a spirometry test if you think you might have COPD or asthma.
Asthma can be monitored using a device called a peak-flow meter (PFM). This device measures the openness of the airways or airflow and can detect small changes before symptoms appear. A peak-flow meter can be used to monitor airflow at home or at work.
- Do you now or have you ever smoked cigarettes, cigars, or a pipe?
- Do you have a cough, wheezing, chest tightness or shortness of breath?
- If you cough, do you bring up mucus with your cough?
- Have you ever been exposed to fumes that may have damaged your lungs?
If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, you should see your doctor for a breathing test. After taking the test, you can ask your doctor these questions:
- Are my breathing measurements normal or abnormal?
- How abnormal are they?
- Is the problem one that can be treated with drugs and/or by stopping smoking?
- Is the abnormality worsening? If so, how quickly?
- What exactly should I do for my problem?