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Coping With COPD

COPD is a group of chronic lung diseases previously referred to as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.  The name COPD was given to the disease process because emphysema and chronic bronchitis usually exist at the same time in most patients.  COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and a significant cause of disability.

COPD is a progressive disease which means it gets worse as times go by.  While  COPD cannot be cured, there are certain interventions and medications that can be put in place to slow the progress of the disease.

Physical changes in the respiratory system that occur making it more difficult to breathe include:

  • Less elasticity of the airways, so there is less expansion to make room for the air you breathe in
  • Destruction of tissue walls between the air sacs (or alveoli) which means there is less ability to take in oxygen from air
  • Swelling of your airways due to irritation of the lining
  • Production of a greater amount of mucus, which then makes it harder to breathe

Many people are not diagnosed with COPD until the disease process is advanced.  Generally anyone with shortness of breath should be evaluated by their physician.

Common symptoms of COPD are:

  • Cough. Cough is a major symptom in those who have chronic bronchitis along with emphysema
  • Coughing up sputum. Sputum is the thicker mucus that is made in your lungs.
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Body pains. Nearly 25 percent of COPD patients report generalized aches and pains.
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Heart failure
  • Swollen legs or feet
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of muscle strength
  • A bluish tint to your lips or fingernails if you are not getting enough oxygen

Maintain a safe environment

Maintaining a safe environment is an important part of COPD management and should be moved to the top of your priority list. Safety, both inside and outside the home, will help to preserve your health and assist you in carrying out activities of daily living in a safe manner. Things that you can do to foster safety around your home include:

  • Remove all throw rugs from the floors
  • Place safety bars inside bathrooms, showers and bathtubs and along walkways both inside and outside the home
  • Use a raised toilet seat
  • Remove all cords and other debris from pathways inside and outside the home
  • Ensure adequate lighting
  • Use non-slip slippers or shoes when moving about the home
  • Discard any medication expired or not in use in a safe place
  • Do not allow yourself to be near anyone who smokes (especially if on oxygen).
  • Write down emergency numbers and place in a visible place


Most of us take our ability to communicate with others for granted. But, with COPD, communication may become difficult due to extreme shortness of breath. It is important for you to know that it is OK to take your time speaking. Talk in short phrases or sentences and pause in between to rest if necessary.

Conserve your energy

Breathlessness is the most frightening aspect of COPD. Unlike healthy people, breathing for a COPD patient can be quite a struggle, involving a real conscious effort. Practicing energy conservation techniques will help you pace yourself in your daily activities so you don’t get so winded:

  • Controlling your breathing: Breathing control techniques can help you fight fatigue and feel less short of breath. When you are performing any kind of activity, be sure to exhale during the most difficult part of the activity using pursed-lip breathing. If you are short of breath, stop and rest for a moment before resuming your activity.
  • Avoid unnecessary activities: Avoid any unnecessary activities that will cause you to expend more energy. For example, wear a terry cloth robe after your bath or shower to save yourself the effort of drying off. Allow the dishes to dry by air instead of drying them by hand, or better yet, use the dishwasher. Sit instead of stand to do your hair, shave or put on your makeup. According to the Canadian Lung Association, sitting uses 25% less energy that standing.
  • Organize your activities: Plan your most strenuous activities at the beginning of the day when you have the most energy. Alternate between tasks that are difficult and those that are easy. Plan out your rest periods and don’t feel bad if you need more rest on one day than another.
  • Organize your closets, shelves and drawers: If you place the items that you use most frequently between waist and shoulder level, you won’t have to do alot of bending or stretching to reach them, thus conserving energy. Keep all items in the area that you use them to avoid extra walking to find them.
  • Maintain good posture: If you use your body properly, you will save more energy. Avoid excess bending or lifting. Use proper body mechanics when trying to move items by pushing, pulling or sliding the item. Instead of carrying things, get yourself a little wagon or cart to wheel them.
  • Practice relaxation: When you relax, you help restore energy to your body. Make sure to schedule relaxation periods during your day and when doing so, concentrate on relaxing all your muscles and slowing down your breath.


If you are getting short of breath while trying to eat, you are not alone. It is a problem and one of the most important to overcome, as malnutrition is one of the more common complications of COPD. You may also be trying to restrict your fluid intake to avoid unnecessary trips to the bathroom that may leave you breathless. The following guidelines may help:

  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day
  • To have more energy, rest before eating
  • Chew your foods completely and eat slowly
  • Allow yourself plenty of time to eat
  • Avoid foods that force you to chew excessively
  • Purchase a commode chair to avoid all those extra toilet trips

In addition, since many people who suffer from COPD frequently eat less, try focusing on eating foods that are high in calories to maximize your caloric intake. You can also supplement your diet with liquid-meal preparations, like Boost or Ensure. If your appetite is less than normal, avoid drinking fluids until after you are finished eating.


Exercise is an essential part of our daily lives. For those with COPD, it is even more important. Implementing simple stretching and breathing exercises or a daily walk will help you maintain your physical and emotional well being. Many benefits of exercise are important to your health:

  • Improving your quality of life: Exercise gives you a feeling of control over your life and helps you to maintain your independence.
  • Helping you use oxygen more efficiently: Exercise strengthens the muscles you use for breathing as well as your other muscle groups causing you expend less energy.
  • Helping you maintain or lose weight: Carrying more weight around than you should makes it harder to breathe. Exercise helps you control your weight, making it easier to breathe.
  • Improving your mood: Exercise is associated with alleviating depression and helps you relax thus causing you to use less energy.
  • Improving your sleep: If you sleep better at night, you will have more energy during the day. Exercise helps all of us sleep better.

Infection Control

Most important thing that someone can do for themselves is utilize good hand-washing techniques.  Infections in those with chronic disease processes can be detrimental in those already compromised.  Handwashing technique attached

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