Living with any chronic illness, especially one that makes it hard to breathe, as COPD does, is no walk in the park. But the good news is that with the proper treatment and lifestyle, people who have COPD can live happy, productive lives for many years. There are many actions you can take to control your symptoms, slow the progression of the illness and enhance your quality of life.
1. Focus on air quality in your home environment.
First and foremost, of course, quit smoking if needed and ask other family members and visitors not to smoke in your home. Both firsthand smoke and secondhand smoke pose severe threats to the health of your already burdened airways. Even the new e-cigarettes have ingredients that could be harmful to COPD-damaged airways.
In addition, it may be wise to avoid wood fires in a fireplace, outdoor campfire or wood-burning stove. Air quality can even be affected by outdoor air pollution from excessive car exhaust or nearby factory fumes. Keeping your air filtered through an air conditioner can be helpful. Make sure your air conditioner has a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
2. Avoid infection as much as possible.
The best avenue to avoiding infection is prevention. People who have COPD should get a flu shot every year and a pneumonia shot every 5 to 10 years, depending on your doctor’s recommendation. Some experts even recommend the whooping cough vaccination as well. Even if the flu shot doesn’t provide 100% protection, it greatly reduces your risk for catching the flu each year. People who have COPD can die from the flu or pneumonia, because of their impact on already damaged lungs.
Also, try to avoid contact with people who are known to be sick from colds or the flu, if you can. Always practice thorough hand washing, especially when using public restrooms.
3. Eat healthy and maintain weight within your healthy range.
When our bodies are well-nourished and not overweight or underweight, we sleep better, move better and feel better all around. When you are too heavy, you may find it hard to breathe, especially during activity. But being too thin is also suspected to place people with COPD at greater risk of complications and death.
The key is not to diet, but to eat a balance of all the food groups each day and drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated. People with COPD often find it less taxing to eat a few small meals a day, rather than 3 regular-sized meals. Find what works for you, and don’t be afraid to treat yourself every now and then!
4. Follow your treatment plan.
Work hand in hand with your doctor to find the right treatment plan for you, your health status and your lifestyle. If something isn’t working for you, then be open with your doctor about it. Together, you can find what works. Once the plan is in motion, be sure to follow it. Take your medications as prescribed, don’t be afraid to use your rescue inhaler or nebulizer as needed, and if you have oxygen, use it.
Keep the lines of communication open with your health team. Sometimes medications stop working as well. New symptoms may crop up. Act on changes such as these promptly, in order to avoid COPD flare-ups that could require emergency action.
5. Manage your stress actively.
Dealing with any chronic health problem can be stressful at times. This is also true of COPD. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family for support if you need to. But also take steps each day to reduce your stress. Get plenty of sleep, at least 7 to 8 hours each night, and take naps during the day if you feel fatigued. Take turns being active and then resting.
Practice activities that relax you and lower your stress. For some people, this can be listening to soothing music, while others find being out in nature does the trick. Yoga and/or meditation may also be helpful. Use what works for you!
These are just a few of the ways you can take control of your disease and preserve your quality of life. You do not have to just give in and “learn to live with COPD.”