Living with Lung Disease
If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), that generally means
you have emphysema or chronic bronchitis. When you have COPD, your airways,
which are normally elastic, with a sort of springy quality, become loose and
floppy. It becomes difficult to get air in and out.
Who’s Most Likely to Develop COPD?
Smoking is the most common cause of COPD. But it’s not the only cause. You can
also develop COPD if you’ve been in contact for a long period of time with air
pollution, chemical fumes, vapors and dust. Many cases of COPD are related to
the type of employment a person has had. Breathing in chemical fumes and dust
year after year can irritate and damage your lungs, which is why it’s extremely
important to wear protective gear on the job.
What are the symptoms of COPD?
Symptoms of COPD include:
- A cough that doesn’t go away
- Coughing up a lot of mucus
- Shortness of breath, especially when you exercise
- Tightness in the chest
There is currently no cure for COPD, but there are things you can do to help
slow the progression of the disease and to help you live your life in a
productive, satisfying way.
Living with COPD: What You can Do
First of all, it’s extremely important to be in close contact with your doctor
and your pulmonary rehab team. They can monitor you closely to make sure you’re
getting the right medications and right treatments for the current phase of your
COPD. The more you stay on top of it, the slower the disease progression is
likely to be. Follow their recommendations not just regarding drugs, but also
regarding exercise, nutrition, breathing exercises and anything else they
In addition, here are some things you can do to give yourself the best possible
chances of keeping your disease in check:
If you smoke, try your very best to quit. That’s easier said than done,
we know, but it really is one of the best ways to help yourself feel better. Get
help from your healthcare team. They can work with you to figure out a quit
method that should work well for you, and they can help support you along the
way. Don’t forget—studies have shown that people who get help from their doctors
have higher quit-smoking success rates.
Do your best to avoid contaminated air. For example, when you cook, try to
keep a window open. If you have any painting done, try to get it done when
you’re not home. When the air pollution level is high, try to stay inside. If
you get outdoor exercise, try to do it in the early morning, away from busy
roads, when pollution is at its lower levels. Stay away from smoky areas, and if
someone who lives with you smokes, try to get that person to smoke outside.
Try to keep your weight in a healthy range. Being overweight makes your
heart work harder, and that contributes to shortness of breath. If you’re
underweight, your energy level is likely to be lower than it would be if you
were at a normal weight.
Try to create a “take it easy” lifestyle. What do we mean by this? Don’t
be afraid to ask for help from friends and family. Wear clothing that’s easy to
put on and take off. Wear comfortable shoes. Use tongs with long handles or
poles to help you move things. Consider having a small table on wheels in the
kitchen, so that you don’t have to carry things around as much.
Consider acupuncture treatments. Many small studies have shown that
people with COPD experience symptom relief from regular acupuncture treatments.
It can’t hurt to give it a try. The only thing you have to lose is the time it
takes you to get to your appointments, and the money it takes to pay for it.
Some health plans even cover acupuncture treatments.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; National
Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute