A quarter of people who suspect they might have a lung condition do not consult a doctor about their symptoms, according to the British Lung Foundation.
An estimated two million people might have undiagnosed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), with many passing it off as a side-effect of getting older, the charity claimed. This meant millions were potentially missing out on medical care that would help improve quality of life.
A study of 350,000 responses to the British Lung Foundation’s online breath test, which helps users determine whether their symptoms need medical attention, found that 20% claimed their lives were significantly limited by breathlessness. Around a quarter said they had not seen their GP about their concerns.
The charity estimated that breathlessness affects 10% of the UK population and up to 30% of older people. It urged the NHS to place a greater priority on early diagnosis of COPD before the condition affects quality of life.
BLF’s medical director Dr Nick Hopkinson reminded workers that getting out of breath during normal activities was not a “normal part of ageing” like many assumed.
“Breathlessness can be due to lack of fitness or being overweight, but it may also be a sign someone has a lung or heart problem,” he said.
“There are simple tests of lung function to see if there’s a problem and it’s worrying many people are not getting the necessary checks to find this out.
“It’s clear much more needs to be done to get people to take breathlessness seriously as a symptom, so people can get treatment at the earliest possible opportunity.
“Even if breathlessness is not due to a medical condition, action to increase fitness, eat a healthy diet and stop smoking can all improve symptoms and will also reduce the risk of developing health problems in the future.”
Last month the British Safety Council urged the Health and Safety Executive to treat ambient air pollution as an occupational health issue, particularly for staff who work outdoors. According to the World Health Organization, it accounts for 43% of COPD deaths and diagnoses.