COPD What You Should Know About COPD

Doctor talking to female patientChronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. “Progressive” means the disease gets worse over time. COPD can cause coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms.

COPD develops slowly and is diagnosed most commonly in middle-aged or older adults. Symptoms often worsen over time and can limit your ability to do routine activities. Severe COPD may prevent you from doing even basic activities like walking, cooking, or taking care of yourself. 

COPD has no cure yet, and doctors don’t know how to reverse the damage to the lungs. However, adhering to treatments and making some lifestyle changes can help you feel better, stay more active, and slow the progress of the disease.

Avoid lung irritants. If you smoke, quit. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit. If you have trouble quitting smoking on your own, consider joining a support group. Many hospitals, workplaces, and community groups offer classes to help people quit smoking. Ask your family members and friends to support you in your efforts to quit as well.

Adhering to treatments and making some lifestyle changes can help you feel better, stay more active, and slow the progress of the disease.

Lung irritants, such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, and dust, also can contribute to COPD. Keep these irritants out of your home. If you have your home painted or sprayed for insects, have it done when you can stay away for a while. Keep your windows closed and stay at home (if possible) when there’s a lot of air pollution or dust outside.

Get ongoing care. If you have COPD, it’s important to get ongoing medical care. Take all of your medicines as your doctor prescribes, and make sure to refill your prescriptions before they run out. Bring a list of all the medicines you’re taking to your medical checkups.

Talk with your doctor about when or if you should get flu and pneumonia vaccines. Ask about other diseases for which COPD may increase your risk, such as heart disease, lung cancer, and pneumonia.

Manage COPD and its symptoms. In addition to receiving ongoing care, you can make some lifestyle changes to help manage COPD and its symptoms. Do activities slowly. Wear shoes and loose garments that are easy to put on and take off. Put items that you use often in one easy-to-reach place. Ask for help moving things around in your house so that you won’t need to climb stairs as often. Find simple ways to cook, clean, and do other chores. For example, you can use a small table or cart with wheels to move things around and a pole or tongs with long handles to reach things. Depending on how severe your disease is, you may want to ask your family and friends for help with daily tasks.

Be prepared for emergencies. If you have COPD, know when and where to seek help for your symptoms. Keep phone numbers handy for your doctor, hospital, and someone who can take you for medical care. You also should have directions to your doctor’s office and the hospital, as well as a list of all the medicines you’re taking. 

Call your doctor if you notice that your symptoms are worsening or if you have signs of an infection, such as a fever. Your doctor may change or adjust your treatments to relieve and treat symptoms. You should get emergency care if you have severe symptoms, such as trouble catching your breath or talking. You also should seek emergency care if your lips or fingernails turn blue or gray (a sign of a low oxygen level in your blood), you’re not mentally alert, your heartbeat is very fast, or the recommended treatment for the symptoms that are getting worse isn’t working.

Seek support for emotional issues. Living with COPD may cause fear, anxiety, depression, and stress. Talk with your healthcare team about how you feel. You also might consider talking to a professional counselor. If you’re depressed, your doctor may recommend medicines or other treatments that can improve your quality of life.

Joining a support group is another option that can help you adjust to living with COPD. You can see how other people who have the same symptoms have coped with them. Ask your doctor about local support groups, or check with a medical center in your area.

Support from family and friends can help relieve stress and anxiety as well. Let your loved ones know how you feel and what they can do to help you.

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, nhlbi.nih.gov

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Fall/Winter 2017-2018.