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Breathing Easier with COPD

About COPD

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a serious lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. Also known by other names, such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, COPD has been diagnosed in more than 12 million people. And it is estimated that another 12 million may have COPD but not realize it. If you or someone you know has symptoms such as chronic coughing, shortness of breath, or wheezing, see your doctor for a simple breathing test. By taking steps now, and talking with your doctor about treatment options, you can breathe better and enjoy a more active life.

Taking Action
There are many things that you can do to make living with COPD easier:

  • Quit Smoking
    If you smoke, the best thing you can do to prevent more damage to your lungs is quit. Ask your doctor about new options for quitting. The National Cancer Institute has information on smoking cessation. Visit or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for more information.
  • Avoid Exposure to Pollutants
    Try to stay away from other things that could irritate your lungs, like dust and strong fumes. Stay indoors when the outside air quality is poor. You should also stay away from places where there might be cigarette smoke.

If you smoke, the best thing you can do to prevent
more damage to your lungs is quit.

  • Visit Your Doctor on a Regular Basis
    See your doctor regularly, even if you are feeling fine. Be sure to bring a list of all medicines you are taking to each doctor’s visit.
  • Follow Treatment Advice
    Be sure to take your medications and follow your doctor’s advice on how to treat your disease. If you have any questions, ASK!
  • Take Precautions Against Flu
    Do your best to avoid crowds during flu season. In addition to avoiding people with the flu, remembering to wash and sanitize your hands can be one of the best ways to guard against getting sick. It is also a good idea to get a flu shot every year since the flu can cause serious problems for people with COPD. You should also ask your doctor about the pneumonia vaccine.
  • Seek Support from Other People with COPD
    There are many COPD support groups offered at local hospitals, and there is a very active COPD community online. Family members are also a great resource for support as you learn to live with and manage COPD.

Treatment Options
Once you have been diagnosed with COPD, there are many ways that you and your doctor can work together to manage the symptoms of the disease and improve your quality of life. Your doctor may suggest one or more of the following options:

  • Medications
    Bronchodilators are medicines that usually come in the form of an inhaler. They work to relax the muscles around your airways, to help open them and make it easier to breathe. Inhaled steroids help prevent the airways from getting inflamed. Each person is different – your doctor may suggest other types of medications that might work better for you.
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation
    Your doctor may recommend that you participate in pulmonary rehabilitation, or “rehab.” This is a program that helps you learn to exercise and manage your disease with physical activity and counseling. It can help you stay active and carry out your day-to-day tasks.
  • Physical Activity Training
    Your doctor or a pulmonary therapist recommended by your doctor might teach you some activities to help your arms and legs get stronger and/or breathing exercises that strengthen the muscles needed for breathing.
  • Oxygen Treatment
    If your COPD is severe, your doctor might suggest oxygen therapy to help with shortness of breath. You might need oxygen all of the time or just some of the time – your doctor will work with you to learn which treatment will be most helpful.
  • Surgery
    People with very severe COPD symptoms may have a hard time breathing all the time. In some of these cases, doctors may suggest lung surgery to improve breathing and help lessen some of the most severe symptoms.

Managing Complications
Symptoms of COPD can get worse all of a sudden. When this happens, it is much harder to catch your breath. You might also have chest tightness, more coughing or a change in your cough (becomes more productive, more mucus is expelled), and a fever.

When symptoms get worse quickly, it could be a sign of a lung infection. There could be other causes for symptoms getting worse, such as heart disease related to severe lung damage. The best thing to do is call your doctor right away so he or she can find out what the cause of the problem is and take steps to treat it.


Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, March/April 2010.