Nonsmokers are also vulnerable to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), doctors said on Tuesday, after a clinical survey showing that nearly 30 percent of drivers of a local taxi service are at risk of developing the disease.
COPD is characterized by chronic inflammation of the pulmonary tissue, said Taiwan Society of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine chairman Wang Hao-chien (王鶴健), an attending physician at National Taiwan University Hospital.
An estimated 880,000 people in the nation have the disease, but only about half had been diagnosed and treated, he said.
Smoking and exposure to air pollution are two major risk factors of COPD, he added.
The society recently teamed up with a taxi service company to screen the lung functions of 851 taxi drivers aged 51 to 55.
The tests showed that more than 40 percent of the drivers were prone to coughing, shortness of breath or excessive sputum production, and 27 percent had abnormal lung functions and a higher risk of developing COPD, but more than half of them were not aware of the disease.
Doctors cited another case, a 65-year-old woman surnamed Lai (賴), a nonsmoker who works at a parking booth.
Since she contracted cold-
induced asthma more than 20 years ago during pregnancy, Lai said she felt her lungs had become weaker.
She was diagnosed with severe COPD about 10 years ago.
Lai said she often contracts a severe cold or pneumonia whenever the weather changes drastically.
Last winter, she was taken to an emergency room after she suddenly had difficulty breathing and felt as if someone was choking her.
Lotung Poh-Ai Hospital vice superintendent Chiu Kuo-chin (邱國欽) said that initial symptoms of COPD include an early-morning cough, wheezing and shortness of breath, which are easily mistaken for asthma or a cold.
However, people with COPD differ in that they often feel out of breath when engaging in simple activities like walking for a short distance or climbing a flight of stairs.
While coughing, panting or producing excessive sputum might seem like mild symptoms, the disease could become life-threatening if a person’s lung functions worsen, Wang said.
The one-year mortality rate for people with COPD is about 20 percent.
The society urged people to avoid smoking and exposure to air pollution, such as heavy traffic, and consult a doctor as soon as possible when symptoms occur, because lung damage cannot be reversed.
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