Tips for living with COPD
COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a disease state characterized by airflow limitation that is not fully reversible(Smeltzer). This can include emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and about 16 million people live with some form of COPD. In COPD, the airflow limitation progressively worsens and scar tissue is found in the lungs. Risk factors for this includes cigarette smoking, exposure to second hand smoke, and prolonged exposure to dust and air pollution. People with COPD usually have three primary symptoms: cough, sputum production, and labored breathing with strenuous activity. So, since this disease can be very severe and it is considered a chronic illness, people that have it need to learn how to live with it without taking away from their quality of life.
1. Reduce your risk factors. First stop smoking. If you need help, then a smoking cessation program should be considered. Also the use of a nicotine patch or nicotine gum is helpful to try and stop smoking.
2. There are breathing exercises that can help improve breathing. Since people with COPD have impaired oxygen levels and labored breathing most of the time, then if these people can improve the way they breathe, then their oxygen levels can also be improved.
A. Diaphragmatic Breathing - Place one hand on stomach area and the other hand on the middle of the chest. Breathe in slow and deep through the nose. Then breathe out through pursed lips while tightening the stomach muscles. While breathing out, press on stomach in and out. Repeat for one minute, then rest for two minutes.
B. Pursed Lip Breathing - Inhale through nose while counting to three. Then exhale slowly and evenly against pursed lips while tightening the stomach muscles. Count to seven while exhaling slowly.
3. People with COPD should start some form of exercise program (only after getting an okay from a doctor). Good exercises include treadmills, stationary bikes, and walking. All of these exercise, done slowly to start with may improve symptoms.
4. Avoid extreme temperatures. The extreme cold may cause excessive coughing, and the extreme heat may cause a need for additional oxygen.
5. Become involved in support groups for COPD.
6. Drink lots of fluids. This helps the secretions that are constantly forming to be able to be coughed up easier.
7. Do not overdo it, so make sure there are scheduled rest periods throughout the day.
8. Also watch for signs of a new respiratory infection. The following are things to watch for: Increased secretions coming up - coughing more than normal, any change in the color of sputum, increased thickness of secretions or if they are not able to be coughed up as easily as before. Also if there is an increased work of the act of breathing, a tightness in the chest, or excessive tiredness. Also if there is a fever or chills present. If any of these signs appear then contact a doctor.
Hopefully these tips will help people with COPD live longer and healthier lives.
Reference: Smeltzer, S., B. Bare. (2004). Brunner and Suddarth's Textbook of Medical-Surgical Nursing, Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams Wilkins.
Elizabeth Barnes, RN