Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) doesn’t mean you have to stop living your life. Here are some lifestyle changes you can take to help you manage the disease:
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 already quit, 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 therapy 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 air pollution, dust, or smoke from wood-burning fireplaces, for example.
Defend against infections
People with COPD are at special 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. Simple 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.
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 fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, olive oil, and whole grains. Cut back on red meat, sugar, and processed foods. Following this dietary pattern, known as the Mediterranean 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 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.
Tend to your emotional needs
People living with disabling diseases such as COPD occasionally succumb to anxiety, stress, or depression. Be sure to discuss any emotional issues with your doctor or healthcare provider. They may be able to prescribe medications to help you cope with anxiety or depression. They may also recommend other approaches to help you cope. This might include meditation, 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.
Stay active and physically fit
According to a recent article in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, “pulmonary rehabilitation” is an intervention tailored to individual patients. Among other things, it includes exercise training to improve a patient’s emotional and physical condition, and to promote “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.
Life goes on
Although there’s no cure for COPD, newer medications and treatments have made it possible to live nearly normally. It’s important to work with your doctor and take any prescribed medications.