Catch Your Breath: 10 Tips for Coping with COPD

Catch Your Breath: 10 Tips for Coping with COPD

By Susan Rogers, MSG, Collin and Denton Counties LIVING WELL Magazines

“It feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest” explains the woman on the phone, “and I just can’t catch my breath.”  For someone living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, the simple act of breathing can feel as strenuous as lifting a four ton elephant off your chest.

COPD is a condition which includes emphysema & chronic bronchitis that can cause shortness of breath, wheezing and chronic coughing. According to the National Institute of Health, COPD affects more than 12 million American adults and another 12 million are estimated to suffer from the disease undiagnosed.

The good news is that there are treatments, medications and lifestyle changes which can help minimize the effects of the disease. The web-resource WebMD offers the following tips for coping with COPD:

  1.  Stop Smoking – easier said than done, I know.
  2. Take Your Medications – on time and every day.  If your medications don’t seem as effective as they used to be, call your doctor right away.
  3. Lose Weight and Exercise – another toughie.  It’s hard to lose weight and exercise when you have trouble breathing, but even small improvements can have a significant impact.  Ask your doctor if a physical therapist can meet with you to develop a plan to help you get started.
  4. Avoid Air Pollutants – perfumes, pollen, fumes, dust and secondhand smoke can irritate your lungs and make it more difficult to breathe. An air purifier can remove many of these pollutants from the air in your home.
  5. Reduce Your Risk of Catching a Cold – avoid crowds, wash your hands frequently and stay away from people who are sick. If you feel like you are getting sick, call your doctor immediately.
  6. Get Your Beauty Rest – often people with COPD will develop sleeping problems ranging from snoring and headaches to sleep apnea. If you are having trouble sleeping, talk with your doctor.
  7. Get Connected – It’s hard not to feel isolated when you get winded just talking on the telephone or walking short distances. Fortunately, support can be just a click away. One of the best internet support programs is offered through the American Lung Association ( Your doctor may also be able to recommend a support group.
  8. Use Oxygen When Needed – No one wants to be tethered to an oxygen canister, but using oxygen when you need it can really improve your quality of life. Portable, light-weight oxygen containers can be used when you are out and about.
  9. Regularly Do Breathing Exercises – your pulmonologist or a respiratory therapist can instruct you on simple exercises you can do daily to increase your lung capacity and make breathing a little easier.
  10. Participate in a Pulmonary Rehab Program – Specially trained physical, occupational and respiratory therapists can develop a program catered to your needs. Pulmonary rehabilitation can help you conserve energy, breath more effectively, increase your muscle tone and will allow the oxygen in your blood to be delivered to your muscles more efficiently. If you’ve had more trouble doing the things you used to do because of shortness of breath, you may qualify to attend outpatient therapy or have home health physical therapy. If you have been hospitalized for a few days due to your COPD, you should qualify to come to an inpatient skilled nursing and rehabilitation center for physical and respiratory therapy. Your physical & occupational therapists should have had special training related to pulmonary rehabilitation and the center should have a respiratory therapist and pulmonologist who will see you on-site. Not all skilled nursing facilities specialize in pulmonary rehabilitation so be sure to ask.

Persons diagnosed with COPD are likely to be hospitalized frequently. To reduce the risk of hospitalization, start today to make some of the changes listed above. It may help to start with an easier step like taking your medication on time or joining an online support group.  Start today, so it will be easier to take that next step tomorrow.

Susan Rogers holds a Master of Science in Gerontology from the University of North Texas and currently works as a community liaison with Prestonwood Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Plano, Texas. She can be reached at 214-731-5980 or at  Please call Susan with any questions about avoiding hospital readmission or for assistance with other senior care issues.

Article provided courtesy of Denton Rehab & Nursing Center. Please contact Heather Anderson at 940-387-8508 or at with questions about avoiding hospital readmission or for assistance with other senior care issues.

Author Susan Rogers of Prestonwood Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Plano, TX holds a Master of Science in Gerontology from the University of North Texas.