Let’s face it… when it comes to medical conditions, there’s a lot of misinformation available on the Internet. It’s no different with COPD. But one of the best tools for you and your caregivers in dealing with this chronic illness is to understand the facts about it. So, here are a few things everyone should know about COPD and living with COPD.
1. COPD Stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
Don’t let the fancy acronym throw you; it’s just a blanket term that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and most people equate all 3 terms. The bottom line is that COPD is chronic and it causes your airways to narrow and become blocked in some areas. This results in less air getting into and out of your lungs.
2. COPD Is a Chronic Illness and There Is No Cure.
When an illness is described as “chronic,” that means it is ongoing and there is no known cure. In general, it also means that it will get worse over time, and that is certainly true of COPD as well. But the good news is, progression is usually quite slow with COPD and the symptoms are treatable and can be managed fairly well for many years for most people.
3. There Are Many Risk Factors for COPD.
- Other sources of poor air quality, including secondhand smoke and air pollution
- A genetic predisposition called Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency
But if you do still smoke, then quitting is your best option. It’s also important that caregivers quit smoking, or at least never smoke around you. Quitting as soon as you can will help prevent further damage to your airways.
4. Finding the Right Treatment Options for COPD Can Take Time.
Treating any disease is often somewhat of a trial and error process. Each of our bodies are so unique that it is impossible for a physician to predict with absolute accuracy how each patient will respond to treatment.
However, we do know that different types of medications can help to relax the airways, reduce inflammation and calm a cough. Experimenting to get the right combination can take time. So, be proactive and honest with your doctor about how you’re reacting to medication and how well your symptoms are being controlled.
Many people benefit from some type of supplemental oxygen, as well. It might be used only as symptoms require, or only at night, while other people feel best when they use it around the clock. There are also different levels of oxygen that can be prescribed.
5. Learning How to Balance Activity and Rest Is a Survival Skill.
Even with a treatment plan that may include medication and supplemental oxygen, people who have COPD often notice that they tire easily and have less endurance. Even ordinary daily activities like personal hygiene and eating meals can take a toll.
The key, then, is to figure out ways to balance your necessary periods of activity with adequate rest periods. Resting helps you recover from exertion and to get your breath back. It also helps you prepare for the next set of tasks you’ll need to do.
6. It’s Important to Stay Active.
Exercise and activity can aggravate your COPD symptoms. But this doesn’t mean you should avoid activity. Although, as I noted above, balancing exercise and rest is critical, it’s also important not to just give in and rest all the time, for fear your symptoms will get out of control.
Daily exercise, even if it’s just walking up and down your hallway or driveway, is important. It will help you to keep your airways working. And you may find that your activity tolerance does improve over time, if you keep at it. There are other benefits to being active too, such as:
- Better appetite
- Improved sleep
- Regular bowel movements
- Improvements in mood
7. A Strong Support System Is Essential
Any chronic illness can be wearing, both physically, as well as emotionally. COPD is no different. People with COPD who have strong support systems often have a better quality of life and stay healthy longer. Support can come in many forms. It doesn’t have to be a spouse or other family members. Friends, fellow church members, local or internet support groups can all be helpful.
The important thing is to not be afraid to ask for this support.
Let those close to you know what you need and when you need it. It might just be a listening ear or time spent together that helps you cope. Or, you might need help with preparing meals or grocery shopping. Whatever your needs are, speak up and seek out the support that will best benefit you.