Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is an umbrella term that encompasses several respiratory illnesses that cause breathlessness, or the inability to exhale normally. People usually experience symptoms, including shortness of breath, and normally cough up sputum (mucus from the lungs), especially in the morning. COPD can be tricky for some people to identify, because symptoms are often mistaken for the gradual aging process and body deterioration. In fact, COPD can develop over the course of several years without any signs of shortness of breath. For that reason, Dr. Meyer says COPD often goes undetected for far too long. He says the disease usually begins while people are in their 30s or 40s and then peaks during their 50s, 60s and 70s. “This disease is generally associated with cigarette smoking. It’s rare to see people with COPD who haven’t been exposed to some sort of smoking. People can experience varying severity levels of COPD. At its most severe, it can cause people difficulty doing every day activities,” Dr. Meyer says.