6 Ways to Help Manage COPD

Making a few changes to your daily routines can help you breathe easier with this chronic respiratory condition.

an older Asian man walks in the park on an autumn day

Updated on October 4, 2023.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term used to describe chronic respiratory illnesses including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These conditions result from damage to the lungs and they make it more difficult for a person to breathe.

COPD is a serious condition and is a leading cause of death in the United States. It is also very common, affecting nearly 16 million U.S. adults.

While there is no cure for COPD, there are ways to treat the condition. The majority of COPD cases are attributable to cigarette smoking, and the first step in treatment for many patients is to quit smoking. Quitting can help reduce symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Additional lifestyle changes, medication, and pulmonary rehabilitation (a form of therapy that improves one’s ability to breathe) may also be part of treatment.

Beyond following a treatment plan devised by a healthcare provider (HCP), there are ways you can help manage your COPD on a daily basis. These include the following steps:

Keep a journal

Many HCP recommend that COPD patients or their caregivers keep a journal to track symptoms, treatments, and day-to-day activities. This can help pinpoint exposure to COPD triggers, help identify patterns in symptoms, and help determine how well treatment is working. A journal can also provide useful information to an HCP and should be brought to appointments.

Eat well

While healthy eating won’t cure COPD, it can help you breathe better, give you more energy, and help you maintain a healthy body weight. For some people with COPD, achieving a healthy weight may mean losing excess pounds. For others, it may mean keeping pounds on. That’s because many patients become underweight as a result of the disease.

Being overweight or underweight can cause complications. Patients should work with an HCP to come up with a healthy eating plan that addresses your nutritional needs.

Stay fit

Though having COPD can make exercise a challenge, regular physical activity offers many benefits to patients with COPD. These include improving cardiovascular health, endurance, circulation, blood pressure, sleep, muscle and bone strength, self-image, and mental health.

Exercise is also a major focus of pulmonary rehabilitation. It is important to speak to your HCP about the kinds of exercises you should do, as well as any precautions or limitations you may have.

Get enough sleep

COPD can interfere with sleep. This may be due to symptoms such as coughing or difficulty breathing, changes in breathing patterns during sleep, or medications that are used to treat COPD.

Because sleep is an important component of both physical and mental health, patients with COPD should take basic steps to help ensure a good night’s sleep, such as reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol intake, limiting electronics use before bed, and keeping the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Any sleep disturbance or difficulties sleeping should be discussed with a HCP.

Wash your hands often

Infections like the cold and flu are the cause of the majority of COPD exacerbations (or flare-ups). One of the best ways to prevent infections like the cold and flu is to wash your hands frequently. Cleanse with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds each time. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which don’t require water, are another good method of killing germs.

Get vaccinated

The flu (influenza) can cause serious complications in COPD patients. Talk to your HCP about getting a flu shot, as well as vaccinations and boosters for other infections such as pneumonia, tetanus, whooping cough, shingles, and COVID-19.

Article sources open article sources

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Is COPD? Last updated on March 24, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basics About COPD. Last Reviewed: June 30, 2023.

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