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5 Ways to Breathe Easier with COPD

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Learn how to improve your breathing and slow the progression of COPD

Posted by Santosh Dhungana, MD

When you have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), it’s important to remember that even though there is no cure, there are many things you can do to ease your symptoms.

When discussing with my patients the best ways to manage their disease and live a fuller, more active life, I always recommend these 5 steps to them. I know how effective these steps are at making people living with COPD feel much better.

1. Focus on protecting your overall health.

Wash your hands

Wash your hands often. It’s the best way to help protect yourself from any illness. I keep hand sanitizer with me for when soap and running water aren’t available.

Get a flu shot and pneumonia shot

It’s important to avoid things like colds and the flu as much as possible. Respiratory viruses and infections can be hard on your lungs. I encourage my patients with COPD to get a flu shot every year and to get a pneumonia shot, too, if they haven’t done so already.

Avoid crowds

Also, it helps to avoid crowds as much as possible. Now that many COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, people are gathering together in large groups. However, the coronavirus is still active. And even if you’ve been vaccinated with one of the COVID-19 vaccines, there is still a slight risk that you may get the virus. Plus, there are always seasonal illnesses to be cautious of. You’ll reduce your chances of getting sick with any of these viruses if you limit your time around large groups of people.

Ask friends to not visit when they’ve got a cold or any other illness that might make you sick. You can get together once they feel better.

Brush, brush, brush

Brush your teeth at least twice a day. You might not think good oral health has anything to do with your lungs. But it can help prevent the germs in your mouth from causing an infection that might harm your lungs. And don’t forget to see your dentist at least twice a year.

2. Use oxygen therapy if you need it.

Supplemental oxygen can help you live longer and with fewer COPD symptoms. It can also protect your heart and help you sleep better. When I prescribe oxygen for my patients, we discuss how to use it at home and when they travel.

I emphasize to my patients that oxygen can help them feel less breathless when doing everyday tasks like making their bed, taking a bath or shower, getting dressed or preparing meals. It can improve their quality of life and allow them to do more of the things they enjoy.

3. Follow a healthy COPD diet.

Many people living with COPD have found that small changes to their diet can make a big difference in how they feel and breathe. Consider eating smaller, more frequent meals. If eating makes you feel short of breath, try resting before meals.

For some people, eating fewer carbohydrates and healthier fats helps them breathe easier. The nutrients in food, such as carbohydrates and fats, are key factors in how much energy you have for activities (like breathing) and how much carbon dioxide (a waste product) your body produces.

You exhale carbon dioxide when you breathe. If you have too much carbon dioxide in your body, it can make you feel weak and affect your breathing. The process of metabolizing carbohydrates in your body produces the most carbon dioxide, and the metabolism of fats the least.

Make sure you drink plenty of fluids, and avoid foods with too much sodium. Ask your doctor about whether you should take vitamins or nutritional supplements.

4. Take part in a COPD exercise program.

Moderate exercise can improve how your body uses oxygen. It can also boost energy levels and decrease anxiety and depression.

Every bit of movement helps:

  • Do gentle stretching.
  • Go get the mail.
  • Try exercise programs on TV or online.

When you set achievable exercise goals every day, your overall health will improve.

You might also want to join the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Temple Lung Center. It helps people with a chronic lung disease like COPD develop long-term strategies for improving their quality of life. You’ll get encouragement and practical tips on how to control your breath and stay healthy.

5. Be mindful about medications.

Your physician has designed a treatment plan specifically for you that most likely includes medications. Those medications might include inhaled drugs, antibiotics, steroids, or expectorants. They can all help you feel better, but only if you take them as directed.

If you have questions about your medications — or if they’re causing troublesome side effects — talk to your doctor. There may be other medications you can take instead.

Also, it’s crucial to refill your prescriptions before they run out. Your medications help your breathing. Missing doses could make your breathing worse.

Want More Helpful Tips?

Specialists at the Temple Lung Center are leaders in the treatment of lung disease. They can help you best manage your COPD and enjoy your life to the fullest. To schedule a visit, call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) or request an appointment.

Additional Resources

Looking for additional information about living with COPD? Check out the following resources:

Santosh Dhungana, MD

Dr. Dhungana is a pulmonologist with expertise in pulmonary medicine, pleural diseases, advanced diagnostic bronchoscopy, and lung cancer diagnosis and staging. An Associate Professor of Clinical Thoracic Medicine and Surgery at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, Dr. Dhungana is also a member of the American College of Chest Physicians, Society of Critical Care Medicine, and American Thoracic Society.

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