Can You Have COPD Without Cough?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) is a branch of lung conditions that makes it increasingly difficult to breathe easily. It develops very slowly over many years.1

Although coughing is a common symptom of COPD, you may still have COPD without coughing. Instead, you may display other symptoms of COPD such as wheezing, shortness of breath and fatigue.6

Knowing COPD

COPD, meaning Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder is a variety of lung conditions that affect your breathing. The severity of your COPD and the type of lung condition you have can affect the symptoms you present with.

COPD includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Causes And risk factors of COPD

Risk factors for COPD generally include:2,3

  • Smoking or exposure to cigarette smoke. Around 90% of cases of COPD are associated with tobacco smoke
  • Exposure to certain dust, fumes and chemicals. Some people are exposed to specific dangerous dust fumes and chemicals at work. Some of these pollutants include:
    • Dust, including coal, silica, grains
    • Fumes and chemicals, including hydrocarbons, welding fumes etc
  • Asthma
  • A family history of COPD. Your genetics can affect how likely you are to develop COPD
  • Air pollution. Exposure to high levels of indoor air pollutants can increase the risk of developing COPD. Research on this is not completely clear

Signs and symptoms of COPD

Common symptoms of COPD include:1

  • A persistent cough often accompanied by phlegm
  • Recurrent chest infections
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath

Less common symptoms of COPD include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood

These symptoms only usually occur once COPD has reached a more advanced stage.

Cough in COPD

Common causes of cough in COPD

Coughing is a natural reflex reaction that is part of our primary immune response. It is used to expel irritants from our airways. 

Coughing can be caused by:1,2

  • Inflammation of the airways
  • Irritants. This includes allergens such as smoke. This can lead to hay fever in some persons
  • Chest infections
  • Phlegm: Irritatingng the back of the throat and causing a tickly cough
  • A sore throat

Can you have COPD without cough

Yes, you can have COPD without a chronic cough. This is especially true in mild COPD where you may not experience a cough.6 Although coughing with COPD is common, some individuals with COPD display other symptoms.

These may 

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue


COPD can increase the risk of experiencing complications. These complications include:

  • Increasing your risk of infection. You may be more likely to suffer from colds and flu
  • Lung cancer
  • Cardiovascular-related disorders including high blood pressure and heart problems
  • Problems with mobility, such as walking up flights of stairs or moving quickly
  • Asthma
  • Depression


The main and most effective way you can prevent COPD from developing is to never smoke or to quit smoking.1 If you need support to help you quit smoking, you can access that here. It is also important to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.

It is also important to try and protect yourself from dangerous chemicals, dust and fumes both in the workplace and at home.3

Treatments and medications

Unfortunately, COPD cannot be cured. However, there are some treatments and medications that can help to manage your condition.1

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Your doctor will help to devise a plan to help manage your COPD involving education and exercise. This will help you slow the progression of your COPD and manage your symptoms more effectively. It will also help you with taking any prescribed medication.1

Your pulmonary rehabilitation programme may include:5

  • Breathing strategies
  • Nutritional guidance
  • Counselling or group support
  • Exercise training
  • Education on COPD and lung disease


The main treatment for COPD involves using inhalers. This contain drugs that once inhaled, can relax your airways to help you breathe easier.4

There are different types of inhalers:


These work by relaxing the muscles around the airways to help you breathe easier. There are short-acting bronchodilators such as salbutamol. Short-acting inhalers provide short-term relief from periods of breathlessness. They can be used multiple times per day.

There are also long-acting bronchodilators such as salmeterol. Long-acting inhalers provide long-term relief for your symptoms. They are used twice per day to manage your COPD.

Steroid Inhalers

These work by reducing swelling in the airways. An example of a steroid inhaler is beclometasone. This type of medication is under a class of drug called inhaled corticosteroids.

Other medications

Aside from inhalers, other medications can help relieve  some of the symptoms of COPD4:

  • Steroid tablets. These are used to reduce inflammation of the airways during a flare-up or exacerbation of your COPD. They are generally not used for a long-term treatment
  • Antibiotics. This helps you treat infections such as bacterial chest infections as this can make your COPD worse
  • Mucolytics. These medications help to thin your mucus meaning it is easier to cough up mucus and phlegm from the chest to ease your breathing


Single-handedly the most important thing you can do to help reduce your symptoms and slow down the progression of COPD is to stop smoking.1,5


Annually, It is important during flu season to get vaccinated against flu,as this can make your COPD worse.5


Surgery is a last resort option for COPD treatment and is only offered when other treatment methods have not been effective. Surgery may include:5

  • Lung transplant. The diseased lung is replaced with one or two lungs from a healthy donor
  • Lung volume reduction surgery. The diseased parts of the lung are removed here to allow the remaining lung tissue to work better

When to consult a doctor

If you are experiencing symptoms of COPD, especially if you smoke or used to smoke, it is important to speak to your GP or a healthcare professional. They may ask you to take part in some tests to see how well your lungs are working. 

These tests may include:7

  • A spirometry test. This test uses a machine called a spirometer which you breathe into. It takes measurements to see how well your lungs are working
  • Blood tests. These can reveal if any other conditions can cause similar symptoms as COPD, such as anaemia
  • Peak flow test. This helps your GP to tell the difference between COPD and asthma. In this test, you are asked to take a full breath in and breathe out as hard and fast as possible into a machine called a peak flow meter
  • Blood oxygen test. This measures the oxygen levels in your blood using a small machine attached to the end of your finger
  • A CT scan. This scan can see if there are any problems with your lungs


  • COPD is an incurable group of lung diseases, but it can be managed successfully through pulmonary rehabilitation and medications
  • COPD includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema
  • The symptoms of COPD vary depending on the stage and severity of COPD. Individuals with mild COPD may not present with a cough or any noticeable symptoms
  • There are many treatment options depending on your COPD severity


  1. NHS. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, (COPD) [Internet]; 2019. Available from: 
  2. NICE. What are the Risk Factors? [Internet]; 2021. Available from: 
  3. American Lung Association. COPD causes and risk factors [Internet]; 2021. Available from: 
  4. Asthma and Lung UK. Medications for COPD [Internet]; 2022. Available from: 
  5. CDC. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) [Internet]; 2020. Available from:,How%20Can%20COPD%20Be%20Prevented%3F,and%20if%20you%20smoke%2C%20quit.&text=Talk%20with%20your%20doctor%20about,cigarettes%2C%20cigars%2C%20or%20pipes
  6. Chee A. Sin, DD. Treatment of mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis [Internet]. 2008 Dec [cited 2022 Oct 11];3(4):563-573. Available from: 
  7. NHS. Diagnosis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) [Internet]; 2019. Available from: 
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Laura Preece

BSc Pharmaceutical Sciences and MRes Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
I am a researcher and medical writer with a passion for pharmaceutics, disease and biological sciences. I am currently researching cellular and molecular biology, investigating the use of vitamin C as an adjunctive therapy for diabetes mellitus.

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