COPD cannot be reversed. However, quitting smoking, managing any allergies, and following an exercise program are all things you can do to help slow its progression.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung diseases that diminish airflow from your lungs, making it difficult for you to breathe.

It affects nearly 30 million people in the United States. Many people experience COPD symptoms but are unaware that they have the disease.

Common symptoms include:

  • nagging cough
  • decreased ability to exercise
  • shortness of breath
  • frequent respiratory infections

Read on to learn how lifestyle habits can affect your quality of life and your outlook with COPD.

While it’s not possible to reverse COPD, it is possible to treat the symptoms.

Can COPD be reversed by quitting smoking?

Smoking is responsible for COPD in around 75% of cases.

Research has shown that smoking increases the risk of bacterial and viral respiratory infections.

If your COPD results from smoking cigarettes, the best thing you can do is try to quit smoking. This will help slow the progression of the condition and help your body be more receptive to treatment.

While it cannot completely reverse COPD, quitting can decrease inflammation of your respiratory tract and improve your immune system.

Quitting smoking can be difficult, but resources are available to help you achieve this goal, including apps, personal coaches, and support groups.

You can learn more about how to quit smoking.

In addition to avoiding cigarette smoke, it’s important to avoid any environmental factors that can irritate your lungs. These include pet hair and dander, dust, and air pollution.

It’s also important to manage any allergies you have that cause breathing problems. Avoiding known allergens and taking the appropriate medications can decrease breathing difficulties.

Reversing COPD with exercise: Is it possible?

Exercise can improve the way you feel, breathe, and function. Although exercise has been shown to improve the lives of people with COPD, it will not cure or reverse the disease.

Most people with COPD experience shortness of breath, which can make it hard to perform day-to-day tasks or engage in physical activity. If you don’t exercise, your muscles will weaken and your heart and lungs will become less tolerant of activity, making exercising tougher.

To help prevent this, it’s important to stay active. Take it slowly until you’ve built up your strength, but make sure you’re moving.

Pulmonary rehabilitation programs can be useful for learning about exercises that can improve your tolerance for activity and increase your independence. You can ask your doctor about programs in your area.

Before you start exercising, talk with your doctor. They can help you develop an exercise plan to fit your needs.

If you use oxygen, your doctor can guide you on best practices for using it while exercising. You may need to adjust your oxygen flow rate to accommodate increased activity.

Once you’ve gotten into a routine, you can gradually increase your exercise time and effort. Doing more each day can help you build up your endurance and improve your quality of life.

A general goal is to exercise 3–4 days per week. It’s OK to start by doing exercise sessions of 10–15 minutes. If you can, work up to 30–40 minutes per session.

Learn more about exercising with COPD and 8 great exercises for COPD.

COPD is a chronic disease. While it’s possible to slow the progression of COPD, your symptoms will eventually worsen.

COPD is classified into various grades to help you and your doctor understand your disease state and decide on a treatment plan.

GOLD staging

The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) grades the severity of airflow obstruction based on your FEV1 value, the amount of air you can force from your lungs in 1 second.

GOLD grade 1

Grade 1 means your FEV1 is at least 80% of what’s expected.

GOLD grade 2

Grade 2 means the disease has progressed to moderate COPD. Your FEV1 is 50–79% of what’s expected.

GOLD grade 3

Grade 3 is defined as severe COPD. Your forced lung function is 30–49% of what’s expected.

GOLD grade 4

This is the most severe grade of COPD. Your forced lung function is less than 30% of what’s expected.

A, B, C, or D score

Lung function isn’t the only aspect of COPD that’s important. Doctors now realize it’s necessary to understand how COPD flares and other symptoms — such as cough, breathlessness, and quality of sleep — affect daily life.

To assess this, an additional score of A, B, C, or D is assigned to the GOLD grade.

An A score is associated with the fewest symptoms and flares, while a D score is associated with the most.

Recommendations for treatment come from both the lung function grade and the severity of symptoms or letter score.

Early diagnosis is key. Shortness of breath and an ongoing cough are the most common reasons people seek medical attention before receiving a COPD diagnosis.

As the disease progresses, people notice worsening breathlessness, chest tightness, wheezing, and usually increased phlegm. In a later grade of COPD, people will experience all these symptoms along with loss of appetite, weight loss, and fatigue.

The sooner COPD is diagnosed, the better your outlook usually is. Once you receive your diagnosis, it’s important that you quit smoking and assess your lifestyle.

If you continue to smoke, your condition will progress much more quickly and shorten your life expectancy.

How do you stop COPD from progressing?

Since COPD is a progressive disease, it will continue progressing. While you can take some steps to treat the symptoms and slow the progression, you won’t be able to reverse all the lung damage.

Is it possible for COPD to get better?

While you can manage some symptoms of COPD, it’s not possible to stop them completely or to reverse the disease.

What is the life expectancy of COPD?

On average, COPD reduces your life expectancy by 8–9 years. However, research has shown that in a moderate grade of COPD, your life expectancy is lowered by only 6.2 years. This suggests that making certain lifestyle changes and getting treatment can slow the progression.

If you’ve already stopped smoking and limited your exposure to other harmful irritants, you’re on your way to reducing COPD complications and progression.

Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can help strengthen your immune system and build up your endurance.

You may also find it helpful to make changes at home. This may mean keeping items you use daily on a common table or moving items from a top shelf to somewhere easier to access.

Making a few changes can help you avoid overexerting yourself and getting out of breath.

Follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations. If you’re feeling unwell or believe your symptoms are worse than before, let your doctor know. They can evaluate your treatment plan and make adjustments as needed.