While medications are the first line of treatment for COPD, there are also some complementary therapies that can be prescribed by your doctor. Chances are you have seen one, if not both, of these at one time or another, but might not know exactly what they are or what their purposes are.
These aren't the only gadgets that are out there on the market, but I wanted to focus on the following two for this article.
A Vibratory PEP device is a small handheld device that uses Positive Expiratory Pressure (PEP) along with a small valve to help mobilize secretions that people with COPD have excess of. There is usually a dial where you can set the resistance as well as pressure. It is completely person-dependent, so you do all of the work. It doesn't plug in and is small enough to fit in a purse.
Generally 3 sets of ten breaths are done at a time. The vibrations are felt deep down in your chest and help loosen up the mucus in the base of the lungs. Follow up with some good huff coughs (take in a slightly deeper breath than normal and make a “ha, ha, ha” sound from your belly rapidly) to bring the mucus up and out. There are several different brand names and manufacturers of vibratory PEP devices on the market and while they are all small, they do come in different shapes and colors.
These handy devices have been around for decades. You can almost always seen them handed out to people after surgeries of all types. This particular device actually wasn't invented with COPD sufferers in mind. Not in the least. But it turns out it can be quite helpful and quite beneficial for people with COPD and many other lung diseases!
The purpose of an Incentive spirometer is to help keep your lungs open and expanded. They are also handheld devices. Though a bit larger than the vibratory peps, they are still small enough to hold with one hand. Some have a series of balls that raise, while others have a white disc that raises up as you breathe in. There is a flexible tube that attaches to the front of the unit with a mouthpiece on the end. You make a good seal around the mouthpiece with your lips and take a slow deep breath in. As you breathe in, you’ll see the balls (or disc) start to raise up.
You want to breathe in as deeply as you can. When you can’t breathe in any deeper try to hold it for three to five seconds if you are able, and then exhale. Try to repeat this for a total of ten times or however many times and as often as your doctor recommends, usually ten times every one to four hours. There are “recommended” normal values for Incentive Spirometry, but keep in mind those are mere guidelines. Work with your doctor to come up with a goal for yourself to set and try to achieve.
As always, talk with your doctor about any potential gadgets or changes you'd like to try!
Do you have questions about your COPD diagnosis?