Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease characterized by chronically poor airflow that makes breathing difficult. This progressive disease is also known as chronic obstructive airway disease and chronic obstructive lung disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Men are more likely to suffer from this problem than women.
The main cause of COPD is smoking. Other causes include long-term exposure to secondhand smoke and other lung irritants like air pollution, chemical fumes and dust from the environment or workplace. Rarely, a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency may also cause it.
Initially, the disease may show no symptoms or only mild symptoms. Over time, symptoms may include a persistent cough that produces a lot of mucus, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, lack of energy and weight loss. Those with COPD also are more prone to frequent colds and the flu.
If not controlled, COPD can lead to other health complications like respiratory infections, high blood pressure, heart problems, lung cancer and depression.
Lung damage caused by COPD is irreversible. However, with lifestyle changes, medicines and simple home remedies, you can control the symptoms and minimize further damage. Treatment also focuses on preventing complications and improving your overall health.
Here are the top 10 ways to deal with COPD.
1. Quit Smoking
If you suffer from COPD, giving up smoking can help manage your condition and improve your quality of life. Cigarette smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals and toxins that when inhaled affect the lungs immensely. Over time, these toxins cause abnormal lung irritation, causing the onset of COPD.
To ease symptoms, take necessary steps to quit smoking. There are many resources and professional help available. Ask your doctor for referrals if you are struggling to quit.
2. Avoid Lung Irritants
You must also limit your exposure to common lung irritants, such as secondhand smoke and other air pollutants. Dust, pollen, smog, pet dander and chemicals from cleaning products, paint or textiles can cause flare-ups. Even the synthetic fragrances used in air fresheners emit toxic chemicals that are bad for your lungs.
- Avoid places where others smoke.
- Avoid being around people who smoke a lot.
- Avoid highly polluted and industrialized areas.
- Try to remain indoors, especially when smog levels are particularly high.
- Keep your indoor air pollution under control with the help of an air purifier. You can also keep indoor houseplants to improve indoor air quality.
- If you have to be outside, limit your exercise or physical activity.
- When going out, wear a surgical mask to protect your lungs from irritants.
3. Avoid Extreme Weather
Even a slight change in the weather or temperature can trigger COPD symptoms, such as shortness of breath, coughing and phlegm production.
Whether it is very hot and humid or very cold, you must be very careful as each type of weather brings its own set of breathing issues. Obviously it is not possible to control the outside climate, but you can manage your indoor atmosphere.
During hot, humid weather, try to stay in a cool, air-conditioned environment. In addition, plan your schedule in such a manner that most of your outdoor activities can be done during early morning or late evening.
If cold and windy weather triggers your symptoms, wear a scarf or face mask over your nose and mouth. Also, try to breathe through your nose. Try to stay in a comfortably warm room and wear warm clothes to keep your body warm.
4. Avoid Respiratory Infections
Due to lung damage, people who have COPD are more prone to bacterial and viral infections. Harmful bacteria and viruses cause a breakdown in the lining of the airways, leading to inflammation and breathing problems. Plus, they can lead to serious complications in people suffering from lung disease.
- Annual flu and pneumonia vaccines are essential if you suffer from this progressive lung disease.
- Follow good hand-washing hygiene rules.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a clean handkerchief while coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid crowds and socializing with people who are sick.
- Drinking plenty of water and using a humidifier can help.
- In case of an infection, consult your doctor immediately.
5. Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises can help improve breathing in people suffering from COPD. According to the American Association for Respiratory Care, pursed-lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing are very helpful in this regard.
Pursed-lip breathing is a simple exercise to control shortness of breath. It also encourages relaxation, relieves anxiety and makes it easier to breathe normally.
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as deep breathing, strengthens the diaphragm muscle so that you can breathe without any difficulty. It also helps you use less energy and effort while breathing.
You can ask your doctor or respiratory therapist about these breathing techniques.
6. Exercise Regularly
You may find it hard to exercise with COPD symptoms, but regular physical exercise can strengthen the muscles to help you breathe properly and improve your overall wellness.
It also helps improve your energy levels and blood circulation. Any kind of physical activity that gets you moving can be helpful.
In a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers concluded that moderate to high levels of regular physical activity could reduce lung function decline and COPD risk among smokers.
There are different types of exercise that a person with COPD can do.
- Cardiovascular exercise that involves steady aerobic activity is a good choice.
- Strengthening or resistance exercises can strengthen your respiratory muscles.
- Stretching and flexibility exercises like yoga can improve breathing.
Always talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
7. Follow a Strict Diet
If you have COPD, you need to follow a very strict diet to manage the symptoms and maintain a proper weight.
- Include low-fat protein foods like lean cuts of meat, poultry and fish in your diet.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids or take a supplement after consulting your doctor. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and help improve your breathing.
- Eat whole-grain foods, such as whole-grain bread, bran, brown rice and oats.
- Eat more fresh fruits and green vegetables to keep your body healthy.
- Eat potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, oranges, tomatoes, asparagus and potatoes.
- Limit your salt intake. Too much sodium can worsen your condition.
- Avoid dairy products like milk and cheese if they make phlegm thicker.
- Do not eat chocolate. It contains caffeine that may interfere with your medication.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals and, if needed, take vitamin or nutritional supplements suggested by your doctor.
If you are having trouble eating enough, consult a nutritionist for a personal diet plan that will meet your nutritional needs.
8. Watch What You Drink
When suffering from COPD, you must drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. In addition to keeping you hydrated, it will keep the mucus thin so that you can breathe properly.
- Drink several glasses of water as well as non-caffeinated beverages daily.
- Drink freshly extracted fruit and vegetable juices daily.
- Soups, broths and smoothies also help increase your fluid intake.
- Limit or avoid caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks, as they may cause dehydration.
- Avoid or limit alcoholic beverages, as they may worsen your coughing.
Note: If you have been diagnosed with heart or kidney problems as well, consult your doctor before increasing your fluid intake.
9. Take Vitamin D
People with COPD tend to have low levels of vitamin D in their body. This vital vitamin protects the body against viral and bacterial infections. It also reduces compounds in the body that destroy tissues and helps the lungs function properly.
All these factors provide protection against COPD flare-ups. Though there is little research in this field, the possible role of vitamin D in managing symptoms cannot be ruled out.
Exposure to early morning sunlight for about 10 minutes (without sunscreen) can help your body produce vitamin D. In addition, you can include foods rich in vitamin D like fatty fish, fortified milk, liver and eggs in your diet. Another option is taking vitamin D supplements, but only after consulting a doctor.
10. Acupuncture and Acupressure
Both acupuncture and acupressure are traditional Chinese treatments that can help manage the symptoms of COPD. In acupuncture, very thin needles are used on acupressure points that lie along meridians in your body. In acupressure, pressure is applied on the points instead of needles.
A 2012 study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine found that acupuncture helps improve dyspnea (labored breathing) on exertion, a major symptom of COPD. After a 3-month acupuncture treatment along with medicines, COPD patients were able to walk longer without becoming breathless.
Be it acupuncture or acupressure, it is best to get it done by an expert.
- See your doctor regularly. Stick to your appointment schedule and follow all the suggestions given by your doctor.
- Get plenty of sleep and rest to help your body manage the symptoms.
- Try relaxation techniques like meditation, guided imagery and relaxation therapy to manage stress and ease symptoms. Stress tends to exacerbate your symptoms.
- Try to keep yourself free from grief, anger, anxiety and depression that are normal responses to chronic illness.