2. A cough that doesn’t go away or get better
It is not uncommon for a common respiratory infection to cause a cough that persists for a few weeks or even longer. But if your cough is prevalent and not getting better over time, “then it’s something to worry about a bit more,” says Wang Memoli.
The American Lung Association recommends getting checked out if you have a cough that lasts longer than eight weeks. Also see a doctor if you cough up mucus or phlegm for more than a month. Coughing up blood is another red flag that shouldn’t be ignored, says Gerard J. Criner, MD, director of the Temple Lung Center in Philadelphia.
3. Chest pain or tightness
Although often thought of as a cardiovascular problem, chest pain or tightness can be linked to pulmonary complications, says Wang Memoli.
A sharp, stabbing pain that hits when you breathe in or cough can indicate pneumonia. And chest tightness is a common symptom of COPD, which is when the airways are damaged (less air gets in and out), making it difficult to breathe. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two most common conditions that contribute to COPD. .
Spotting symptoms early could improve chances of treatment
Many conditions that fall under the category of lung disease are treatable or manageable with medications and other therapies, says Wang Memoli. In some cases, such as with lung cancer, the second most common cancer in the United States, early detection “results in improved survival,” says Criner. Finding lung cancer early, when it’s more curable, can reduce mortality by up to 20%, research shows.
And in other diseases, like COPD, which affects some 16 million Americans, “if you intercede and treat the patients, they have a much better quality of life,” Criner adds. Treatment for COPD may include medications such as bronchodilators to relax the muscles around the airways and steroids to reduce inflammation. Some people with COPD may also receive oxygen therapy.
During an evaluation, your doctor will likely ask about your work history and other possible exposures, because everything from air pollution to smoking can cause lung disease.
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