5 tips to manage COPD symptoms

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a chronic lung condition that can cause shortness of breath, coughing, and other respiratory symptoms. 

There are things you can check to make sure you are managing your symptoms as best as possible. 

Even if COPD cannot be cured, quality of life can be improved. 

Here are 5 things to check:

1. Quit smoking

If you no longer smoke or never smoked – congratulations! Smoking is the leading cause of COPD, and quitting smoking is the most important step you can take to manage your symptoms and control the condition long term. Smoking cessation is one of the most difficult things to do, but it is worth it. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor or a smoking cessation specialist in your area. There are many programs available around the world to help those who smoke quit for good. This is usually achieved through counseling, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and sometimes other medications which help to reduce craving. 

2. Exercise regularly

Most people think of exercise as going to the gym, running or doing very strenuous physical activity. For those who have chronic conditions, exercise normally starts with very simple movements that are done regularly, to keep the muscles of the body active. This in turn will also stimulate deep breathing and help you cope better with breathlessness long term. You can start with gentle exercises like walking or cycling, and gradually increase the intensity and duration as you build up your strength. 

Exercise also has benefits which extend beyond physical fitness. Those who exercise regularly also report less anxiety and improved mood. Exercise can also be done as a group, with either family members or other people who may also be suffering with COPD. This can be a great opportunity to maintain normal social interactions and have more support while managing your condition.

3. Stay hydrated

Drinking enough fluids can help clear mucus from the airways, which is always a difficult issue for those who have COPD. Most people should aim to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water per day, and to be aware that some drinks can actually dehydrate you, such as alcohol and coffee (so you would need to compensate for that). If simple water is simply not appealing enough, consider adding some syrup to give it a taste, or to eat more soup, or replace 1-2 glasses of water with milk or another drink that you enjoy. Try to avoid sugary drinks as they are really bad for your overall health. 

4. Keep your indoor air clean

Indoor air pollution is a real thing and can be just as harmful to your lungs as outdoor air pollution. Make sure to keep your home well-ventilated (even by opening the windows a few times per day). Be especially careful to avoid smoking indoors or to kindly ask those who live with you to smoke outside. Remember to properly ventilate your home when cooking or using a fireplace, especially if you are burning wood or biomass in a stove. If you have to use a stove for heating your home, make sure the chimney is well cleaned and working well. You may also consider installing an extractor fan to expel any smoke from the house. Try to avoid burning candles and incense inside as these can also contribute to indoor air pollution. 

It is also important to keep your home free of damp and mold. Depending on your situation you may consider using a dehumidifier or an air purifier. 

Try to also avoid other products which can release harmful chemicals into the air, such as very strong cleaning products and air fresheners. 

5. Get more support

Living with COPD can be hard, and many people actually do not ask for help until they are really struggling. With chronic lung diseases, it’s important to have a support system in place. This might include family and friends, support groups, access to counseling and a having a plan to get in touch with your medical team early if required. 

Family and friends can provide emotional support and practical help, such as running errands or doing household chores. Support groups provide an opportunity to connect with other people who are living with COPD, share experiences, and learn from one another. You may even make friends or find partners to join you for a walk or other forms of exercise. It is always better to exercise with others. Your healthcare team can provide valuable support and information about COPD, including your doctor who can help you understand your treatment options, manage your symptoms, and monitor your lung function. Your family doctor or GP may be able to prescribe you rescue medication to have at home in case your condition worsens (such as when getting a chest infection). 

If you found this article helpful consider checking out my YouTube channel, where I regularly post videos about managing lung disease.

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