Consultant respiratory physician Dr Emrys Evans says it is important to diagnose people with chronic lung conditions as early as possible
Awareness of certain chronic lung conditions in Wales is "dangerously low", says a charity.
British Lung Foundation Wales is especially worried because of the high rates of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in parts of Wales.
COPD is a term for lung conditions including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which are caused mostly by smoking but also by exposure to dust.
The charity is raising awareness of the disease on Tuesday, World COPD Day.
Its survey suggested that almost three quarters of current and former smokers had not had a lung function test, despite many of them experiencing symptoms of a chronic lung disease.
Many were former smokers who believed that because they had kicked the habit they were free from health worries.
COPD kills more people in Wales than breast cancer and prostate cancer added together
Dr Emrys Evans, respiratory consultant
The charity said a bout of breathlessness or a persistent cough could actually be symptoms of a far more serious problem.
Dr Emrys Evans, consultant respiratory physician at Morriston Hospital in Swansea and chairman of the charity in Wales, said it was important to diagnose the condition as early as possible.
"COPD kills more people in Wales than breast cancer and prostate cancer added together so it can be a potentially fatal condition," he said.
He added: "The earlier we see patients, the greater chance that we can educate the patients, have a positive impact on the patients and try to reduce the rate of decline in lung function that is inevitable with this condition unless it is managed properly."
In Wales, one in five people has a diagnosed lung condition, with many others living with an undiagnosed lung problem.
Dr Evans said many people seemed to tolerate coughing and wheezing because other people around them may also be smokers and suffering from the same conditions.
"I don't think it's worse in Wales than the rest of the UK but there's certain hotspots within Wales where we know the condition appears to be worse," he said.
"There may be reasons for that such as occupation, there may be environmental reasons, but usually the condition is associated with smoking.
"So where there's greater proportions of patients who smoke, we tend to see higher proportions of patients with COPD."
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