Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is the fourth leading cause of death in New Zealand, and it’s estimated that 15% of Kiwis over 45 live with this condition, yet very few people have ever heard of it.

As World COPD Day approaches next Wednesday 16 November, the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation wants to get New Zealanders talking about COPD and taking action to protect their lungs.

"For many people getting a diagnosis of COPD comes as a shock," says Foundation Chief Executive Letitia Harding. "Firstly, they don’t know what it is and then they are often surprised to discover the symptoms they’ve been experiencing, often for some time, were warning signs that something wasn’t right with their respiratory health."

COPD is an umbrella term that covers emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma; all conditions where the airways are permanently damaged making breathing progressively more difficult. It is incurable, but not untreatable and early diagnosis can make a huge difference to people’s future quality of life and respiratory health. Symptoms can include episodes of unexplained breathlessness, a cough that doesn’t go away and coughing up mucus, especially in the morning.

"Globally, COPD is often undiagnosed, and this is because many people mistake those symptoms as a natural part of aging or declining fitness levels," explains Foundation Medical Director Dr James Fingleton.

"Often people wait until these symptoms are severe before seeking help and by this time their lung function can be seriously compromised. The earlier we can get a diagnosis, the better. Early diagnosis increases the possibility of living a full and active life with COPD," he says.

COPD is caused by irritants and toxins making their way into the airways and causing permanent damage. Cigarette smoke, air pollution, chemical or dust inhalation in work environments can all cause COPD. However, there is also an inherited genetic condition which means people with no history of toxin exposure can develop COPD.

The theme of World COPD Day is ‘Your Lungs for Life’. Letitia says this is an important reminder that we need to care for our lungs and be conscious of what we are breathing into them, at every stage of life. "Staying smoke and vape-free is the best thing you can do for your lungs, and the lungs of your loved ones. As a society, we also need to be continually working to improve air quality in workplaces, homes and across New Zealand."

To mark World COPD Day, the Foundation will hold a webinar entitled ‘Living well with COPD’ on Tuesday 15 November at 7pm, where participants can ask questions of our panel of experts. Registration is available here.

For more information on COPD check out the Foundation’s website:


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