A lingering cough, shortness of breath and a throat lined with mucus: It’s easy to overlook these common symptoms, especially during the time of year when sneezes and sniffles abound.
But doctors warn that these familiar ailments shouldn’t be ignored. They could be early warning signs of lung disease, a catch-all term for any problem in the lungs that keeps them from functioning properly. Common types include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or COPD), pneumonia and lung cancer.
“If symptoms are short-lived, then maybe it’s nothing. But if they go on, don’t just chalk it up to something like an infection. It may be something more serious,” says Jessica S. Wang Memoli, M.D., a pulmonologist and director of Bronchoscopy & Interventional Pulmonary at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.
Here are three warning signs to keep an eye on:
1. Shortness of breath
While it’s true that lung function declines with age, meaning breathing may gradually become more difficult, sudden shortness of breath during routine activities is not normal. So if you notice that you’re out of breath out of the blue, that’s a sign you should see a doctor.
“If you were able to walk up a couple flights of stairs a couple of weeks ago, and then today you just feel more winded, that could be a sign that maybe something else is going on,” Wang Memoli says.
If your breathing is noisy — you’re wheezing — that’s another red flag. Also, pay attention to an overall low-energy feeling; it can be a warning sign of lung disease, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).