If you’re short of breath after climbing a few stairs, you may have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It’s a condition that affects almost 7% of adults, and your risk increases as you grow older.
A diagnosis of COPD means you have one or a combination of certain lung disorders that make it difficult to breathe. That includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The symptoms usually develop gradually, and many cases go undetected.
The most common cause is cigarette smoking, along with other irritants like air pollution and some chemicals. In rare cases, it can also be due to genetics.
While there’s no cure for COPD, there are many medical treatments and lifestyle habits that can help. Learn more about how to protect your lungs.
Medical Care for Living with COPD
Early detection and treatment can help prevent further damage to your lungs. If you follow your doctor’s recommendations, you may be able to enjoy more of the activities you love.
- Get diagnosed. A spirometry is usually the preferred test for catching COPD as soon as possible. It involves blowing into a tube that measures your lung capacity. Your doctor will also ask about your medical history and may perform other tests, including a chest X-ray.
- Take medication. Your doctor may prescribe a variety of different drugs. That could include bronchodilators that open your airways when you inhale them, as well as corticosteroids and antibiotics. You may also need oxygen therapy.
- Try pulmonary rehabilitation. Many patients benefit from a comprehensive program of education and exercise. For example, you can learn breathing techniques that will enable you to be more active and methods of coughing that break up mucus.
- Consider surgery. If your symptoms are severe, surgery may be necessary. Your doctor can explain the possible outcomes and risks.
- Seek urgent care. Call 911 or visit an emergency room if you experience severe shortness of breath. Immediate care may also be needed if your chest feels tight or you have pain in your arms and upper body.
Lifestyle Suggestions for Living with COPD
Your daily choices matter too.
Try these habits that will help you to deal with the physical and emotional challenges that come with COPD:
- Keep a log. You may also be able to anticipate and prevent flare-ups or exacerbations that are common with COPD. By controlling these temporary periods of severe symptoms, you lower your risk for hospitalization and complications including lung or heart failure.
- Exercise regularly. You can usually find ways to work out even when physical activity aggravates your breathing difficulties. Ask your doctor or physical therapist about safe exercises that can increase your energy levels and train your body to use oxygen more efficiently.
- Change your diet. The way you eat can make breathing easier too. Lose excess weight and limit foods that cause gas or bloating. Drink plenty of water to thin your mucus. If you take steroids, you may also want to eat more foods rich in calcium to avoid deficiencies.
- Find support. Coping with any chronic condition can be stressful. You may experience depression and feel awkward in social situations. Let your loved ones know how they can help. Call the American Lung Association to find a Better Breathing Support Group in your area.
- Quit smoking. Regardless of how long you’ve smoked, you can still benefit from giving up tobacco. Keep trying until you quit permanently.
Abstaining from tobacco and avoiding secondhand smoke is the most effective way to prevent COPD. If you’re already affected, you can maximize the quality of your life by seeking appropriate medical care and adopting a healthy lifestyle.