If you’ve ever been to a hospital for COPD, then you’ve probably met a respiratory therapist like me. Once we get you feeling better, the next goal is to make sure you stay healthy, which means breathing easy.
Here are my favorite strategies for managing COPD.
- Smoking cessation programs. I know that you are probably growing tired of hearing this, but part of my job is to say, “Hey, do you smoke?” If you say yes, then my job is to say, “Are you interested in smoking cessation advice?” There is good reason we do this, and it’s because COPD is the number one most common disease caused by the chemicals in cigarette smoke. Likewise, quitting smoking is proven to slow the progression of COPD and to prolong life.
- Educate Yourself. I am a big fan of education. If you want to gain control of any chronic disease, you will have to take some time to educate yourself. This usually begins with a talk between you and someone like me, or between you and a nurse or your doctor. From there, it’s your responsibility to take the lead in furthering your COPD education. There are many good books, such as “COPD For Dummies.” Another great idea is hanging out in COPD communities like ours.
- Join A COPD Community. I’m a big fan of COPD communities. I’m not allowed to lead anyone to this one at work, per a policy. Still, I’m often telling my patients to find a community where you’ll meet other people living with it just like you. This could be something as simple as a pulmonary rehabilitation program, or it could be an online community like this.
- Learn about and control your COPD triggers. What was it that landed you in the hospital in the first place? What was it that caused you to have a flare-up? What were you exposed to that caused you to get short of breath? Was it a lung infection? Was it cigarette or chimney smoke? Was it fumes or dust in the air at your work? Was it chemicals in cleaning supplies? Was it strong smells such as when you pass through the cleaning supply aisle at Walmart? Was it stress, anxiety, or depression? What triggers flare-ups differs from one person to the next, so your job is to work with your doctor to learn your own personal triggers. Once you learn what they are, you can work with your doctor to develop strategies for controlling them.
- Take your medicine exactly as prescribed. It’s bad enough that as we get older we have to take more and more medicine, and when you have a chronic lung disease you’re going to need to take even more medicine. The number of pills you take, coupled with taking inhalers and wearing oxygen, can easily become a burden. But you have to understand that being compliant with your medicine regime is one of the surefire ways of controlling your disease so you can breathe easier and live longer with it. A good tip for keeping track of all your pills is to purchase a pill box, and they only cost a few dollars, if that. Most COPD controller inhalers only need to be taken twice a day, and a good tip is to get into the habit of taking them just prior to brushing your teeth. Oxygen is also considered a drug, so taking your medicine means wearing your oxygen exactly as prescribed, if it is prescribed.
- Develop a COPD action plan. Asthma action plans were created in the late 1990s and were intended to help asthmatics decide what actions to take when they felt symptoms. They worked so well that COPD experts now recommend them for COPD patients. This is where you sit down with your doctor and develop a written plan for helping you decide what actions to take when you feel symptoms. Plans are divided into three zones:
- Green: “I am feeling good.” Action: Continue your current routine of taking daily medicines and using your oxygen as prescribed. Stay active, and avoid your triggers.
- Yellow: “I am feeling symptoms today and need my rescue medicine more than usual.” Your plan may call for you to use your oxygen all day and night, to take oral steroids that he/she gave you a prescription for days like this, and to get plenty of rest. If symptoms persist, then call for help.
- Red. “I am having a really bad day.” Have someone drive you to the emergency room or call 911.
COPD action plans should be written on one side of one sheet of paper and placed in an easy to find location, such as on the refrigerator door. They should be easy to find by you or anyone else who is trying to help you.
All of these strategies can help you breathe easier and live better with COPD.
They can also keep you healthy and out of the hospital. Although, when you need us, when your action plan says that you need our services, we are always here, waiting to help you breathe easier.