SMOKERS in the North East who constantly cough and wheeze could be showing early signs of serious lung damage.
That’s the warning from health charity Fresh, which has have surveyed hundreds of smokers as part of its Every Breath campaign.
The initiative is hoping to highlight the problems of suffering from deadly respiratory disease chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Researchers found that 29 per cent of those asked suffer from a regular cough or bring up phlegm, with 20 per cent saying they often feel breathless and chesty.
However, less than a third said they had never heard of COPD.
Health chiefs are now calling on smokers to quit the habit and cut their chances of being damaged by COPD, the fifth biggest killer illness in the UK.
It is also estimated to cost the NHS an estimated £491million each year.
Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: “It’s clear that a large number of smokers are suffering daily from unpleasant symptoms that are dismissed as minor problems.
“We have spoken with countless people who are now confined to wheelchairs when they should be out and about enjoying their 50s, 60s and 70s, and who wish they had listened to their bodies when they too had these symptoms decades previously.”
Dr Robert Allcock, consultant respiratory physician and divisional director for medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Gateshead, said: “For anyone who smokes, is in their mid to late 30s or older and is experiencing shortness of breath it is likely they are experiencing COPD in the early stages.
“At that point it is vital to stop smoking before things get worse.
“A person with COPD will experience a more rapid and severe decline in the function of their lungs than normal.
“This will make daily life a struggle.
“Tasks that they previously took for granted such as walking upstairs, getting washed, or shopping become hard work.”
Smokers who can’t to quit can contact the NHS Smokefree Helpline on 0800 011612, or text FRESH and their postcode to 88088.