In the early stages, often not. Many people think they're merely unfit, or have a bad cough. Having a productive cough, having a tight chest and being out of breath could be early symptoms of COPD.
It can sometimes take a very long time for people to be diagnosed correctly. Their symptoms are also sometimes confused with asthma, despite the fact that asthma generally makes its appearance at a much younger age than COPD does.
It is important to remember that while wheezing is generally a symptom of airway diseases like COPD or asthma, chronic cough and progressive shortness of breath are symptoms that can be caused by many diseases, not just COPD. Unexplained symptoms of this kind warrant examination by a healthcare professional.