MANCHESTER — November is COPD Awareness Month.

COPD includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and permanently damages the airways and air sacs in the lungs. It’s progressive, but because it comes on gradually, many people don’t realize they have it.

COPD occurs most often in people over the age of 40, who are or were smokers, have had long-term exposure to lung irritants and air pollution including secondhand smoke or have a rare genetic condition. It’s a major cause of disability in the U.S., and 65,000 people in New Hampshire have been diagnosed with COPD.

It’s estimated that another 65,000 Granite Staters have COPD but don’t know it, attributing symptoms to aging or being out of shape.

Symptoms include shortness of breath, chronic coughing or wheezing, producing excess sputum, or feeling unable to take a deep breath. COPD is diagnosed with a quick, painless breathing test.

There is no cure. But Breathe New Hampshire, a leadership member of the COPD Learn More Breathe Better® Network of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, has been working to help people who live with COPD understand that with proper diagnosis and treatment they can breathe easier and enjoy an improved quality of life. Pulmonary rehabilitation, where patients exercise to increase energy and stamina, and learn about nutrition and the disease process, and support groups, which connect patients to peers, can help.

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