What is COPD?
COPD is short for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It’s a disease caused by damage to a person’s lungs and airway tubes that carry air into and out of the lungs. This makes breathing difficult. Over time, it gets harder and harder for air to flow through the airways and into the lungs.
In its early stages, COPD causes symptoms, such as:
- coughing that generates mucus
- shortness of breath
- tightness in the chest
- decreased immunity to colds and infections
As the disease progresses a person may have:
- trouble catching their breath even with minimal activity
- lips or fingernails that turn blue or gray
- a rapid heartbeat
- swollen feet and ankles
- weight loss
- frequent respiratory infections
- episodes of worsening symptoms, known as flare-ups
The severity of COPD depends upon the amount of lung damage a person has sustained.
Smoking is the main cause of COPD, and most people with COPD either smoke or used to smoke. Breathing in lung irritants other than cigarette smoke — such as chemical fumes, dust, or air pollution — can also cause COPD.
COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and currently affects an estimated 16 million Americans. It’s a major cause of disability. In its most severe stage, everyday tasks are extremely difficult to complete. People often lose their ability to walk, cook, and take care of basic hygiene tasks such as showering on their own.
Typically COPD is diagnosed in middle-aged and older adults. Currently, there’s no cure for COPD or a way to repair the airways and lungs damaged by the disease. Yet people can feel better, stay more active, and slow disease progression with consistent medical treatment and by changing their lifestyle.
Besides seeking medical care, many people with COPD find the following home remedies helpful in managing their disease:
Stop smoking and vaping
The smoke from a cigarette, exposes your lungs to an irritant that causes physical damage. This is why smokers often develop COPD. Eight out every ten deaths due to COPD are because of smoking. Smoking around children, along with exposure to other air pollutants, can slow the development and growth of their lungs. This may also make them more susceptible to chronic lung disease as adults.
You will experience fewer complications from COPD when you quit smoking.
Many smokers turn to “smokeless” vapor e-cigarettes. These are marketed as a less-damaging alternative to traditional cigarettes. But according to a recent study, e-cigarettes lower the body’s defense against respiratory infections in mice. COPD also makes you more likely to develop a lung infection. Vaping when you have COPD may increase that risk as well.
Of the nearly 16 million Americans who have COPD, 39 percent continue to smoke. In people with COPD who continue to smoke, the damage to the lungs happens more quickly compared to people with COPD who quit smoking. Studies have consistently shown that smokers who quit slow disease progression and increase their survival and quality of life.
Because COPD causes shortness of breath, it can be hard for people with COPD to stay active. Increasing your fitness levels can actually help symptoms such as shortness of breath.
Exercises such as walking, jogging, and biking can be challenging for people with COPD. One recent study found that for people with COPD, water-based exercises, such as aqua- walking and swimming, are easier to complete. These water-based exercises were shown to improve fitness and quality of life in people with COPD. Other studies on alternative forms of exercise have suggested that yoga and tai chi also can be beneficial to people with COPD by improving lung function and exercise tolerance.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Maintaining a proper body weight is important for COPD patients.
When you are significantly overweight, you heart and lungs have to work harder. This can make breathing more difficult. It also makes you more likely to have other conditions that aggravate COPD such as sleep apnea, diabetes and acid reflux disease. If you are overweight and you have COPD, see a doctor or nutritionist for counseling. Many people can lose weight by:
- decreasing the total number of calories you eat
- eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and less fatty meats
- cutting out junk foods, alcohol and sweetened drinks
- increasing daily activity
By contrast, studies have shown that people who are underweight have a greater risk of dying from COPD than those who are normal weight or overweight. The reasons for this are not completely clear. Researchers believe it’s likely due to multiple factors such as:
- less muscle strength
- worsening lung disease
- poor immune system function
- more frequent flare-ups
People with significant COPD burn up to 10 times the number of calories breathing than a healthy person does because the work of breathing is difficult. If you are underweight with COPD, it can be challenging to eat enough. You should see a doctor or nutritionist if you need help gaining weight. You may need to try things such as:
- supplemental shakes for extra calories
- eating more calorie dense foods like peanut butter, whole milk, ice cream, pudding, and custards
- changing the treatment plan for your COPD to make breathing easier
- eating more frequently throughout the day
Health is more than just physical wellness; it’s also related to mental wellbeing. The challenges of coping with chronic diseases like COPD often cause people to experience negative emotions such as stress, depression, and anxiety. What’s more, research shows these feelings can negatively affect a person’s ability to manage their condition, overall health and quality of life.
For people with COPD, stress, anxiety and panic attacks can be especially dangerous. A panic attack impairs breathing in otherwise healthy people. A person with COPD, can experience worsening breathing difficulties if they have a panic attack. This leads to increase use of medications and more frequent trips to the hospital.
There are ways to reduce levels of stress and anxiety at home. These include practicing meditation and yoga, and getting massages. If your stress is too overwhelming to handle on your own, seek professional help. Talking to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or another certified mental health counselor can help you identify stressors and how to best cope with them. Prescription medications can be helpful when used with other stress management techniques, so it’s important to talk to your doctor.
Research shows that breathing exercises can help people with COPD by decreasing breathlessness, improving quality of life and decreasing fatigue. The two main types of breathing techniques commonly used to help people with COPD get air without struggling to breathe. They include “pursed-lip” and “diaphragmatic” breathing.
A review of several studies has shown that people with severe COPD often have low vitamin D levels. Studies suggest that giving these individuals vitamin D supplements may reduce respiratory infections and decrease COPD flare ups.
Other common supplements recommended to people with COPD include:
- Omega 3: This supplement may have beneficial anti-inflammatory effects.
- Essential amino acids: Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Some studies have shown it to improve cognitive function, quality of life and muscle strength, especially in underweight people.
- Antioxidant vitamins: Supplementation with antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E have been shown in studies to improve lung function in people with COPD, especially when combined with omega 3.
If you’re considering adding supplements to your diet, it’s important to talk to your doctor first. Many supplements can interact with and interfere with certain medications and health conditions.
Many people with COPD turn to essential oils to help their symptoms. Research suggests Myrtol, eucalyptus oil, and orange oil can reduce airway inflammation. It’s important to note these results came from sampled lung cells, not those in a living person. Another recent study in guinea pigs with COPD found Zataria multiflora oil also reduced inflammation. As with any supplement, ask your doctor before using essential oils.