Breathing Better with COPD
By Brittany Hartman & Kathy Stevens
For those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), there is no better time to resolve to breathe better.
COPD is a serious lung disease that over time makes it difficult to breathe. COPD is also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and causes serious, long-term disability.
The “airways” are the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs through the nose and mouth. Healthy airways and air sacs in the lungs are elastic, meaning they bounce back to their original shape after being stretched or filled with air; just the way a new rubber band or balloon does. This elastic quality helps retain the normal structure of the lung and ensure the air moves quickly in and out. In people with COPD, the air sacs no longer bounce back to their original shape. The airways can also become swollen or thicker than normal, and mucus production might increase. The floppy airways become partially blocked or obstructed, making it even harder to get air in and out of the lungs.
Symptoms of COPD include; a chronic cough, shortness of breath while doing simple activities such as getting dressed, and coughing up mucus. The most common cause of COPD is repeated exposure to tobacco smoke. This includes your own or someone else’s. Other things that could put you at risk are exposure to chemical fumes, dust, and air pollution over a long period of time.
There are many things you can do to make living with COPD easier: Quitting smoking is key. It is the single most effective way to prevent the development of COPD. If you already have COPD, quitting can slow down or even stop the progression. It is never too late to quit. Talk to your physician about smoking cessation medications and programs to help you quit.
A little exercise goes a long way. Light exercise can make you feel more energetic while conditioning your muscles. Exercise at any level holds benefits for COPD patients, but before jumping into any exercise program; be sure to consult with your physician.
A healthy diet is important, but for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, eating well is even more crucial to overall health. Good nutrition helps COPD patients fight infections, prevent illness, and may cut down on hospital visits.
As with any disease it is very important to follow the treatment advice of your health care practitioner. Treatment of COPD is different for everyone, so be sure to take your medications and follow your doctor’s advice on how to treat your disease. If you have questions—ASK! See your doctor regularly, even if you are feeling fine, and be sure and take a list of all your medications with you to the doctor.
Avoid exposure to pollutants. Try to stay away from things that could irritate your lungs, like dust and strong fumes. Stay indoors when the outside air quality is poor. Steer clear of cigarette smoke. Take precautions against the flu. Avoid crowds during flu season and always remember your flu and pneumonia vaccine.
You can never undo the damage done to your lungs but following these steps can help prevent COPD as well as make living with the disease much easier.