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Lifestyle Changes to Help Manage COPD

Overview

Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) doesn’t mean that you have to stop living your life. There are many lifestyle changes you can make to help you manage the disease.

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Stop smoking

Your top priority: stop smoking

Smoking is the number one cause of chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Together, these diseases comprise COPD. If you haven’t quit already, it’s very important to take steps to stop smoking. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation strategies.

If nicotine withdrawal is a concern, your doctor may be able to prescribe nicotine replacement therapies to help you gradually wean yourself off this addictive drug. Products include gum, inhalers, and patches. Prescription drugs to facilitate smoking cessation are also available.

People with COPD should avoid all inhaled irritants, whenever possible. This can mean avoiding chemicals, air pollution, dust, or smoke from wood-burning fireplaces.

Learn more: Quitting smoking as a COPD treatment »

Fight infections

Defend against infections

People with COPD are at an increased risk for respiratory infections, which can trigger flare-ups. Infections that affect the airways can often be avoided with good hand-washing hygiene. Cold viruses, for instance, are often passed through touch. Touching a door handle and then rubbing your eyes can transmit cold viruses.

It’s important to wash your hands often when out in public. Antibacterial products are not necessary, unless you’re in a healthcare setting. Soap and running water do a good job of removing potentially infectious germs.

It may also be helpful to avoid contact with people who show signs of cold or flu. Your doctor may also recommend an annual flu vaccine. Carry hand sanitizer with you.

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Eat right

Focus on good nutrition

Eating right is an important way to keep your body and your immune system strong. Sometimes, people with advanced COPD don’t get the proper nutrition they need to stay healthy. It may be helpful to eat smaller meals more often.

Your doctor may also recommend nutritional supplements to ensure you’re getting the essential nutrients you need. Try to eat a diet rich in the following:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • fish
  • nuts
  • olive oil
  • whole grains

You should also try to cut back on red meat, sugar, and processed foods. Replace animal fats like butter with healthy oils from plants. This dietary pattern is known as the Mediterranean diet. This diet has been shown to help reduce chronic inflammation, while supplying plenty of fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients to help keep you healthy.

Be prepared

Be prepared for emergencies

Become familiar with the signs of a flare-up. Familiarize yourself with the nearest place you can go to seek treatment if breathing becomes difficult. Keep your doctor’s phone number handy and don’t hesitate to call if your symptoms worsen. Also notify your doctor or healthcare professional if you develop any new or unusual symptoms, such as fever.

Maintain a list of friends or family members that you can call on in case you need to be taken to a medical facility. Keep directions to your doctor’s office, or the nearest hospital, on hand. You should also keep a list of all medications you’re taking and give it to any healthcare provider that may need to administer emergency aid.

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Tend to yourself

Tend to your emotional needs

People living with disabling diseases such as COPD occasionally suffer from anxiety, stress, or depression. Be sure to discuss any emotional issues with your healthcare provider. Your doctor may be able to prescribe medications to help you cope with anxiety or depression. He or she may also recommend other approaches to help you cope. This might include meditation, guided imagery, special breathing techniques, or joining a support group. Be open with friends and family about your state of mind and your concerns. Let them help in any way they can. Stress management is a learned skill.

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Stay active

Stay active and physically fit

According to a 2013 article in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, “pulmonary rehabilitation” is an intervention tailored to individuals. Among other things, it includes exercise training to improve a person’s emotional and physical condition. It also promotes “health-enhancing behaviors.” Research shows that exercise training can improve exercise tolerance and improve quality of life among people with mild to moderate COPD. It can also help provide relief from shortness of breath.

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Outlook

Outlook

Although there’s no cure for COPD, newer medications and treatments have made it possible to live nearly normally. To stop the progression of COPD, you have to do the self-care. It’s important to work with your doctor and take any medications that are prescribed.

Q&A

Humidifiers

  • What should people with COPD look for in a humidifier?
  • When the lungs are inflamed, the tissue lining the lungs are raw and swollen. There is more area for bacteria to settle. Chemicals or dust are more irritating. Dry air makes the symptoms worse, especially in the winter when dry heat is pumped through the house. Adding humidity to the air you breathe is soothing to the lung tissue and helps the cells better adapt to environmental irritants.

    Many humidifiers must be cleaned regularly and the filter needs to be changed according to the manufacturer’s directions. It is possible for water reservoirs to become contaminated, and with COPD you are more sensitive than most people. Choose a humidifier that can be cleaned easily and has an anti-bacterial or anti-mold capability. Too much humidity will increase the amount of mold and germs in the environment.

    A filtered humidifier removes minerals and chlorine from the water and improves breathing. Ultrasonic humidifiers add mist to the air. Hot steam humidifiers help kill bacteria and mists the room. Choose a humidifier that fits the size of the room. A combination of air purifiers and humidifiers will provide the best environment for breathing with COPD.

    - Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT
  • Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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