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Over 11 million people have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, making it the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Many associate the disease with smoking, but there are other environmental factors that can put you at risk as well.

Dr. Marcia Katz, UCF Health’s pulmonologist, says that second-hand smoke and other environmental pollutants are also risk factors for COPD.

“Of course, smoking is the biggest risk factor for COPD, but other environmental issues can also contribute, including second-hand smoke, and unclean air from things like dust and pollutants,” said Dr. Katz.

So how can we avoid this issue?

First, quit smoking. If you are a non-smoker, avoid smoking areas. If you live with a smoker, ask them not to smoke in the house. If you work in an environment that exposes you to fumes or dust, take proper precautions to protect your lungs by using appropriate air filtration devices that cover your nose and mouth.

Signs you may have developed COPD

Symptoms of COPD, including shortness of breath and coughing, often get mistaken for a cold or just getting old. Therefore, you should get screened yearly for COPD if you have smoked in the past, present or are often around second-hand smoke or heavily polluted areas. Your doctor may order a number of tests to have a better understanding of the health of your lungs, such as chest x-rays, pulmonary function testing, CT scans, and lab tests.

Keeping your lungs healthy

Exercise is the number one way to keep your lungs healthy and increase your lung capacity. Choosing not to smoke or be around those who smoke throughout your lifetime will also greatly decrease your chance of developing lung issues. As part of good lung health, you should get a yearly flu shot. If you have been diagnosed with COPD, there are medications to assist with symptoms and complications.

If you have a chronic cough, difficulty breathing, persistent mucus in your chest and wheezing, talk to your doctor about being screened for COPD.

Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Offering primary and specialty care under one roof, UCF Health treats patients age 16 and up in primary care and age 18 and up for specialty care. Most major insurance plans are accepted. Two locations are now open: the original in East Orlando at Quadrangle and University boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus, and the newest one in Medical City at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard. Information for both facilities can be found at, or call (407) 266-DOCS to schedule an appointment.

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