5 Ways to Manage Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on November 18, 2015

5 Ways to Manage Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD causes obstructed airflow from the lungs.

Although there isn’t a cure for COPD,
it is treatable if it’s properly managed.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that unfortunately doesn’t have a cure. This disease causes obstructed airflow from the lungs, which can lead to difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing and sputum production.

COPD, which is sometimes called emphysema or chronic bronchitis, is caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter, most often from smoking cigarettes.

Although there isn’t a cure for this chronic condition, it is treatable. And, if it’s properly managed, people with COPD can gain control over the symptoms and their quality of life and reduce the risk of other associated conditions, such as heart disease and lung cancer.

Here are five ways to best manage COPD.

1. Don’t smoke

COPD is most commonly caused by smoking. In fact, smoking accounts for as many as nine out of 10 COPD-related deaths. If you are diagnosed with COPD and are a smoker, the most important thing you can do to slow down the progression of the disease is to quit smoking immediately. Smoking with this condition can worsen it more quickly than if you stop.

It’s also important to avoid places where others smoke. Secondhand smoke may contribute to further lung damage. Similarly, other types of air pollution can irritate your lungs – that means it’s important to avoid dust and fumes, check daily air quality levels and air pollution forecasts and stay indoors on bad air days.

2. Control your breathing

Living with COPD may make you feel like you’re always trying to catch your breath. Fight this feeling by talking to your doctor or respiratory therapist about techniques that can help you breathe more efficiently throughout the day. Practice deep-breathing exercises like “belly breathing,” a.k.a. diaphragmatic breathing. And when you are dealing with shortness of breath, using a “pursed lip” breathing technique can relax your airways and help you resume a normal breath.

3. Clear your airways

One symptom of COPD is sputum production, which is also called phlegm or mucus production. It’s normal for your airways to produce several ounces of sputum each day – it’s necessary to keep your breathing passages moist. When lungs become irritated, they attempt to protect themselves by producing more mucus in order to trap any inhaled particles from entering your lungs.

Mucus tends to collect in air passages with COPD and it can be difficult to clear. Thick sticky mucus is more likely to get stuck in your lungs and cause problems such as acute bronchitis or pneumonia.

One of the most natural ways to thin out thick sticky mucus is by drinking water or another type of non-dehydrating beverage like juice – this will make it easier to cough. You should try to drink at least eight glasses of liquid per day. You can also use controlled coughing and a humidifier to help thin and clear the mucus.

4. Eat healthy foods and exercise regularly

The food you eat may impact your breathing – consuming the right mix of nutrients can help you breathe easier in addition to help you maintain your strength. If you’re underweight, your doctor may recommend nutritional supplements along with a diet consisting of a variety of whole-grain carbohydrates, fresh fruits and vegetables. And if you’re overweight, eating a healthy diet of fresh fruits and veggies instead of bread and pasta for the majority of your complex carbohydrates can help you lose weight. Losing weight can significantly help your breathing.

Even if it may seem difficult to exercise while having trouble breathing, it can improve shortness of breath. Exercise helps circulate your blood, delivering oxygen to the rest of your body. It also can strengthen your respiratory muscles while improving your overall strength and endurance.

5. Protect your overall health

Taking steps to protect and maintain your overall health will help protect your already weakened lungs from viruses and infections that can make you sick – a cold or respiratory infection can become very serious when you have COPD. Therefore, it’s important to wash your hands often, use hand sanitizer, avoid crowds during cold and flu season, try to avoid people who are sick, get vaccinated for the flu and pneumonia and practice good oral hygiene.

It’s also important to regularly see your doctor, even if you feel fine, to steadily monitor your lung function.

Even though there’s no cure for COPD, these lifestyle changes, paired with treatments recommended by your doctor, can help you breathe easier, stay more active and slow the progression of the disease.

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