a woman holding a glass of water while coughing

10 Tips to Prevent Choking with COPD

When mom began to choke more easily after her diagnosis with lung inflammation, I was concerned. For one thing, she was alone at home a lot. Sometimes it took her a while to recover from the coughing spell that happened after she choked on food, drinks, or even her own saliva. If you’ve read about Mom and me, then you know I always looked for ways to help her stay independent and safe. Together, we came up with 10 tips to prevent choking with COPD, and that helped us all to feel better.

Tips to prevent choking with COPD

Choose your foods wisely

There were some foods and drinks that seemed “thinner” as mom put it. They are more easily choked on than other foods. For example, eating popcorn, sunflower seeds, or raw broccoli may be more likely to cause choking than pasta or dishes with gravy. She learned that drier foods like cookies could flake off easier, and cause more tickles that lead to choking. Some like pudding or cooked apples weren't as much of a problem.

Slow down while eating

Mom stayed busy with her hobbies and errands. When she put off fixing a meal, she would be overly hungry. That could lead to her rushing through a meal and eating too quickly. Taking the time to recognize when to breathe and when to swallow is more simple if you are eating slowly.

Chew every single bite of food

By taking time and chewing each bite thoroughly, we’re all less likely to choke on food. This is really good advice for anyone because chewing is an important part of digestion.

Relax and don't feel rushed while you eat

All of us have experienced being so busy that we try and hurry through a meal. Try to see each snack or meal as an event. Savor each bite or drink and try not to feel rushed.

Sit down while you eat

While standing up and walking around with a glass of tea, it is easier to be distracted and “swallow wrong". Try keeping a drink on the table, and focus on swallowing if you feel the urge to cough.

Talk less, listen more when chewing

Shush! This one makes me laugh so much. Mom and I could talk to each other at the same time if that makes sense. We could even finish each other’s sentences! This didn’t always work well, and I felt like mom choked more when talking to me because we would try to talk too fast. We both learned to be better listeners as a result of COPD.

Swallow first

This one goes with the above one, Shush. When you think about it, starting to speak without first swallowing can be disastrous. If you take a breath and there’s too much saliva, it’s easier to choke. Again, I’m laughing because it became a signal between us that mom was going to say something. She swallowed, and that became MY cue to shush and listen.

Keep yourself hydrated

During dry weather, her nose and throat were more likely to become dry, especially when she was on oxygen. For this tip, instead of guzzling a drink, mom would take time to savor each sip. This reduced that tickling sensation to prevent choking with COPD.

Practice mindful eating

We didn’t call it that back then, but I remember encouraging mom to sip her iced tea or coffee more slowly. This ties in with chewing slowly and not talking and eating at the same time. It also helps to remember to be aware of the difference between chewing and swallowing before you move the food to the back of your throat.

Talk to your doctor about choking with COPD

If you are having problems choking easily, ask your medical provider about other potential causes. They may offer some suggestions to help.

Choking is scary, but manageable

Trying to breathe with a blocked airway can create a panicked feeling. I hope these 10 tips to prevent choking with COPD are useful for you. Mom created new habits over time, and all of these ideas were useful to help her not to choke quite so easily.

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