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Understanding COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is caused by damage to lungs and the airway tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. This damage causes difficulty breathing. Over time, it gets harder and harder for air to flow through the airways and into the lungs.

In its early stages, COPD also causes symptoms such as:

COPD may also result in decreased immunity to colds and infections.

As the disease progresses, you may have trouble catching your breath, even with minimal activity. You may also experience:

The severity of COPD depends upon the amount of lung damage. Typically, COPD is diagnosed in adults middle-aged and older. It’s the third leading cause of death in the United States, and it currently affects an estimated 16 million Americans. It’s a major cause of disability.

Besides seeking medical care, the following home remedies may be helpful in managing COPD and its symptoms.

Cigarette smoke exposes your lungs to an irritant that causes physical damage. This is why smokers often develop COPD. Smoking is responsible for 8 out of every 10 deaths due to COPD.

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.

Smoking around children, along with their 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’ll 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.

However, according to a 2015 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 millions of Americans with COPD, 39 percent continue to smoke. Damage to the lungs happens more quickly in those with COPD who smoke compared to people with COPD who quit smoking.

Studies have consistently shown that smokers who quit smoking slow the progress of COPD and increase their survival and quality of life.

Because COPD causes shortness of breath, it can be hard to stay active. Increasing your fitness levels can actually help symptoms such as shortness of breath.

However, exercises such as walking, jogging, and biking can be challenging with COPD. One study found that water-based exercises, such as aqua walking and swimming, are easier with COPD and can improve fitness and quality of life.

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. Get more tips on staying fit when you have COPD.

Maintaining proper body weight is important for people with COPD.

If you’re overweight

When you’re significantly overweight, your 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:

If you have COPD and you’re overweight, see a doctor or nutritionist. Many people can lose weight by:

If you’re underweight

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 aren’t 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 than a person without COPD does. This is because the work of breathing is difficult.

If you have COPD and you’re underweight, it can be challenging to eat enough. You should see a doctor or nutritionist if you need help gaining weight. You may try:

  • supplemental shakes for extra calories
  • having more calorie-dense foods and beverages such as 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 well-being.

The challenges of coping with chronic diseases such as 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. If you have COPD, you can experience worsening breathing difficulties if you have a panic attack. This leads to increased use of medications and more frequent trips to the hospital.

There are ways to reduce levels of stress and anxiety at home. These include massages and practicing meditation or yoga.

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 learn 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 recommended for people with COPD are pursed-lip and diaphragmatic breathing. They help people with COPD get air without struggling to breathe.

A meta-analysis of several studies found that people with severe COPD often have low vitamin D levels. Studies suggest that vitamin D supplements may reduce respiratory infections and decrease COPD flare-ups.

Other common supplements recommended to people with COPD include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids. This supplement may have beneficial anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Amino acids such as L-carnitine may improve cognitive function, quality of life, and muscle strength, especially in those who are underweight.
  • 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-3s.

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.

Shop for supplements of omega-3 fatty acids, L-carnitine, vitamin A, vitamin C, or vitamin E.

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.

A 2015 study in guinea pigs with COPD found Zataria multiflora oil also reduced inflammation.

As with any supplement, ask your doctor before using essential oils.

Shop for eucalyptus oil or orange oil.

Some people may also find relief with herbal remedies.

A 2009 study found that curcumin, the antioxidant in turmeric, had a protective effect on mice. Modest amounts of curcumin led to suppressed airway inflammation. Curcumin also slowed the progression of lung cancer in the mice.

Ginseng is another herb that’s touted for its ability to improve the symptoms of COPD. Many studies have looked at the effect of ginger on COPD, the Asian ginseng variety in particular. Further research is still needed, but participants in a 2011 study reported that the herb increased their lung function.

Herbal remedies should be used to supplement other COPD treatments and not as a replacement for traditional methods such as medication. As with supplements, you should contact your doctor before trying any herbal remedies. Learn more about herbal remedies for COPD.

Currently, there’s no cure for COPD and no way to repair the damage to airways and lungs.

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.

Yet people can feel better, stay more active, and slow disease progression with consistent medical treatment and changes in lifestyle. Talk to your doctor to see which methods might be right for you.