Coping with COPD
COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a serious illness, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of enjoying your life. There are many things you can do to control your symptoms, feel better, and be happy and productive. Start your journey to living well with COPD today with these 11 practical tips for managing your disease.
1. Create an action plan. Work with your healthcare provider to develop an action plan with goals that can help you stay on the path to wellness.
2. Quit smoking. If you smoke, it is time to quit. This is the best move you can make to improve your life with COPD. Need support? Talk to your healthcare provider about programs, techniques, and medications that can help you to stop smoking.
3. Stay active and exercise. Regular exercise is good for improving your general fitness and emotional well-being. Talk to your healthcare provider about pulmonary rehabilitation, which may help reduce COPD’s impact on your life. Pulmonary rehabilitation offers many benefits, including
• Structured and monitored exercise training
• Nutrition advice
• Techniques for reducing or controlling breathing problems
• Education about maintaining and improving function
• Emotional and psychological support
These two breathing techniques can help ease shortness of breath in people with COPD.
• STEP 1: Relax your neck and shoulder muscles. Breathe in slowly through your nose and count to two in your head.
• STEP 2: Pucker your lips as if you are whistling. Breathe out slowly and gently through your lips while you count to four or more in your head. Always exhale (breathe out) for longer than you inhale (breathe in). This technique allows your lungs to empty more effectively.
(also called abdominal breathing)
• STEP 1: Relax your neck and shoulder muscles.
• STEP 2: Put one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest.
• STEP 3: Breathe in slowly through your nose and count to two. Feel your abdominal muscles relax. Your chest should stay still.
• STEP 4: Tighten your abdominal muscles and breathe out while you count to four. Feel your muscles tighten. Your chest should stay still.
4. Get good nutrition. Some people with COPD have a hard time maintaining their weight. If that’s the case for you, choose healthy, nutrient-packed foods, slow down when you are eating, and try eating several smaller meals throughout the day.
5. Learn to relax. Feeling stressed and anxious can make breathlessness much worse. Learn how to relax yourself. You may want to try several stress-reducing methods until you find what works best for you. Consider yoga, meditation, or listening to relaxing music to avoid stress.
6. Stay flu- and pneumonia-free. Many people with COPD become very ill during flu season, which can increase your chances of coming down with pneumonia. Follow these steps to protect yourself:
• Avoid people with colds and flu.
• Wash your hands to prevent the spread of germs.
• Ask your healthcare provider about getting a yearly flu shot, and whether you should receive a pneumonia shot every five to seven years.
7. Avoid triggers. Triggers are things that can irritate your lungs and make your COPD symptoms worse. Avoid common triggers like air pollution, smog, secondhand smoke, strong fumes, perfume, scented products, and cold, hot, or humid air.
8. Conserve your energy. Most people with COPD find it easiest to intersperse periods of activity and rest. Take time to rest after bursts of activity, and move slowly to avoid breathlessness.
9. Keep your lungs clear. Drink plenty of fluids to keep the mucus in your lungs thin. Thin mucus is easier to cough up and clear than thick mucus is. Ask your healthcare provider about different ways to help clear your lungs.
10. Control your breathing. Try different breathing techniques to help you relax and breathe more effectively. (See sidebar for the two most effective methods.)
11. Use oxygen if necessary. Eventually, many people with COPD need supplemental oxygen. It will improve your quality of life and may help you live longer. You may be surprised to learn how many things you can do while using oxygen. Using a portable system, you can run errands, visit friends, and even travel. Ask your healthcare provider if oxygen use is right for you and how long you should use it each day.
Source: CHEST Foundation, foundation.chestnet.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Spring/Summer 2016.