A LOCAL health charity is urging more people to be aware of the symptoms of a lung condition affecting more than 42,000 people.
Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke (NICHS) is using World COPD Day today to highlight the condition and how people can be helped.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) occurs when the lungs become inflamed, damaged and narrowed. It is the name for a group of conditions which cause breathing difficulties including chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
It is usually associated with long-term exposure to irritants. In the majority of cases, smoking is the cause, however, occupational or environmental factors, such as dust or chemicals can also cause the condition.
With an estimated 42,235 people living with COPD in the north, the NICHS wants to make people aware of the symptoms associated with the condition.
These include a persistent cough, wheezing, production of mucus or phlegm, shortness of breath and chest infections.
Ursula Ferguson from NICHS said: "This World COPD Day we want to highlight the symptoms of COPD to the public, so they can recognise if they may have a potential health issue and can seek further help and advice.
"We would urge anyone who is experiencing these symptoms to contact a medical professional.
"Although COPD cannot be cured, its symptoms can be treated and in turn, quality of life can be improved."
Ms Ferguson said "respiratory conditions are not always obvious to others and are often referred to as 'invisible illnesses'."
"Often, people do not realise the impact respiratory conditions like COPD can have on someone’s life, as well as the lives of their families and carers," she said.
"This means they don’t always receive the necessary support and understanding, but Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke is here to help.
"Over the past year, our care service team have supported more than 500 people with respiratory conditions.
"The help the team provides is extensive and includes family support, health management and education programmes, our wellness sessions, walking groups and emotional support.
"Our team works throughout Northern Ireland with people of all ages affected by respiratory conditions, alongside their families and carers.
"They are dedicated to supporting people in adjusting to life with a respiratory condition, helping them to enjoy life to the full, re-engage with hobbies, and improve their confidence, independence, and overall wellbeing."