Coughing Spasms: Is it COPD?

This article was reviewed by Senior Director of Community Engagement and COPD360social Community Manager, Bill Clark, as well as certified staff Respiratory Therapists on January 29, 2020.

Dear COPD Coach,
I don’t want to waste your time, but my father has been experiencing trouble breathing, coughing spasms, and loss of consciousness due to coughing. I’m scared, I don’t know if he has COPD or not but he’s been to the doctor and all they say is that it’s just his asthma but it’s getting severe. We’re hoping he gets tested but he’s skeptical about doctors. I’m only 14 and I don’t know anything about COPD and I need help please. I don’t know if he even has it but my whole family is scared. Please give me some information on this disease and maybe some tips I can give to my dad to help him breathe better. Any help is appreciated, thank you.

Dear Concerned Son,

First of all, you are not wasting my time! You have some very valid questions and concerns! Coughing can be a part of COPD and might be something called chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis causes a person to have to cough a lot often bring up mucus. Sometimes it is difficult to bring up the mucus because it is too far into the lung or too thick. There are medications and medical devices that can help to clear the lungs more easily. As for the coughing until he loses consciousness: when you cough, you raise the pressure in the chest which then interrupts the blood flow back to the heart and eventually to the brain for a short period of time. The result is that the person can become dizzy or pass out. When the coughing stops, the blood flow returns to normal and the brain begins functioning normally. When your dad feels a coughing spasm coming on, he should sit down and breathe as much as he can through the coughing cycle. If he is driving or operating machinery, he should cease the activity until the spasm stops. I know this may sound frightening, but as long as he is sitting or not involved in driving or other activities, he will be fine when the coughing stops.

You are right that he should be tested. He should ask his doctor for a referral to a pulmonary doctor who can help get to the bottom of it. The tests are pretty simple and should be able to tell him if he has COPD or some other condition that might be causing his symptoms.

I assume that since you are only 14, your dad is probably around 50. What you didn’t tell me was if he smokes or is around chemicals and strong odors or air pollution. All of these can cause breathing problems, and he should avoid all of these if possible! If he has a history of asthma, he has about a 20 percent chance of developing COPD, and there are times when his asthma can become worse. There is also a genetic form of COPD called alpha-1 anti-trypsin deficiency (more info on this at The test for Alpha is very simple and can be done at home. More information on COPD is on our website. Look under the Learn More tab and select Downloads Library.

I am indeed sorry I can’t offer more information, but this is about the best I can do with the information you provided. Until your dad gets tested and the doctors find out what is going on with his breathing, things won’t change for him. If your dad wants to ask some questions, he can join us on COPD360social where he can ask questions to a growing group of individuals living with COPD.

Please feel free to reach out any time you have any questions or concerns. It is not often I find someone your age so concerned and interested in finding answers. Your dad is lucky to have you as a son!

Best regards,
The COPD Coach

Coaches Corner is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice. If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at [email protected] We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to The COPD Coach.


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