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1st of 3pts examining Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) Part 1

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an inability to breathe in and out properly. COPD is the name for a group of lung diseases including chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive airways disease. After pneumonia, COPD is the 2 second leading cause of respiratory death in Ireland with only pneumonia causing more respiratory deaths. Smoking is the cause in 85 to 90% of cases. 500,000 in Ireland live with COPD. It generally presents in people over 40 who have a history of smoking. It is more common in men than women.


  • Chronic bronchitis: bronchitis means 'inflammation of the bronchi'. Inflammation caused by the likes of smoking damage increases mucus produced in the airways which causes the classic COPD cough.
  • Emphysema: this is where the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs lose their elasticity causing them to get narrower. It also means the lungs are not as good at getting oxygen into the body, so the patient must breathe harder.

The effects of COPD

The condition builds up over many years, causing the airways of the lungs (bronchioles) to narrow, permanently damaging the air sacs (alveoli). Breathing in and out will becomes difficult. It makes normal activities, such as walking up the stairs difficult. If not enough oxygen is getting through the narrowed airways to the heart, the patient may also be at risk of heart failure.  Symptoms of COPD can seem like those of asthma. Asthma can be controlled with medication but COPD is non-reversible so treatment for COPD involves relieving the symptoms; (e.g.) Bronchodilators (reliever inhalers)


Symptoms include:

  • early morning smokers cough, 
  • persistent coughing, 
  • mucus and phlegm, 
  • wheezing, 
  • tight chest, 
  • difficulty breathing, 
  • shortness of breath, and
  • repeated lung and chest infections.

Because the amount of oxygen reaching the heart and muscles is diminished, COPD can make patients feel tired. Many with COPD experience weight loss as having difficulty breathing can lead to the patient using up a lot more energy. Also, the breathlessness can make it difficult to eat as much as normal. Significant weight loss can cause weakening of the heart and lead to heart failure.

First signs of COPD

increasing breathlessness when exercising or moving around.

  • a persistent cough with phlegm that never seems to go away
  • frequent chest infections, particularly in winter.



Classic signs include quiet breath sounds or rhonchi (rattling sound when breathing), peripheral oedema (fluid retention) and chest hyperinflation


Tests to rule out other conditions such as asthma and include:

  • Spirometry- blowing into and out of a tube called a spirometer; this establishes lung function.
  • Chest Radiography- a chest x-ray determines expansion of the lungs which can point to COPD
  • CT scan- gives a more definitive diagnosis of lung diseases than a chest x-ray
  • Blood test- can show if the patient has anaemia which can make COPD symptoms worse. A blood test may check for polycythaemia (excess of red blood cells). Polycythaemia shows the body is not getting enough oxygen because of lung damage.

Covid Booster Vaccine

If you have COPD, you may be at more risk from COVID-19. Ask your doctor if you are eligible for the next Covid 19 booster. Whelehans Pharmacy Pearse St have a weekly walk-in clinic for Covid-19 boosters. Call 0449334591 for more.


Convenient Flu Vaccination Service at Whelehans

Whelehans offer flu vaccine at our Pearse St and Clonmore store most days for adults and children. You can book online on the Whelehans Pharmacy website or ring either pharmacy. Flu vaccine is €25 (€20 if you book online). It is free for over 65’s and those with long term conditions (including COPD) and healthcare workers.


To be continued…next week


For comprehensive and free health advice and information call in to Whelehans, log on to or dial 04493 34591 (Pearse St) or 04493 10266 (Clonmore). Email queries to Find us on Facebook.


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