Tips for Staying Healthy With Mild/Early COPD
Last updated: March 2022
The approach to treatment of COPD will vary to some extent, based on what stage of COPD you are currently at. In this post, we'll discuss some tips for people who are in the earliest stages of COPD on how to stay as healthy as possible.
COPD is a chronic inflammatory condition resulting in impaired functioning of your airways and lungs. Over time, it will get progressively worse, but this can take many years. You may be diagnosed at any of the 4 stages of the illness. Those who are diagnosed when still at the mild stage have the best chance of slowing the progression.
When you are classified as having "mild COPD," your airways are starting to show some of the effects of the disease, but your symptoms are not severe yet. In fact, the reason COPD is often missed during this stage is because you might only notice these symptoms during periods of exercise or other strenuous activity:
- Shortness of breath
You may not even have any prescribed treatment at this stage, since your symptoms are generally few and far between.
Prevention tips and lifestyle changes
Quit smoking if you are a smoker
Quitting smoking is the cornerstone of treatment in people with any stage of COPD, but is especially important in those still at the mild stage. If you continue to smoke, knowing that you have COPD, then your condition can only get worse, in a hurry. But if you make the effort to stop smoking, the benefits will be immediate:
- Your symptoms, if you have any, will lessen or disappear for now.
- You will reduce or prevent any further damage to your lungs.
- You will greatly slow down how fast your disease progresses and put off serious complications, such as death.
In short, you will feel better when you quit smoking. Talk with your doctor about the best way to quit. Some people prefer to quit cold turkey, while others will benefit from cutting down gradually, with the assistance of medication. There may also be support groups or special "quit smoking" programs available to help you.
If prescribed, use your short-acting bronchodilator
This is a type of inhaler, also called a rescue or quick-relief inhaler. The most common names of this type of medicine include Proventil and Albuterol.
This type of medicine does not cure or treat the COPD, nor does it prevent symptoms from occurring. But it will relieve symptoms should you have them. The inhaler expands and relaxes your airways and lungs for a period of time.
If your symptoms occur more frequently or are persistent despite using the rescue inhaler, talk with your doctor. It may be that you need to use the inhaler regularly, rather than just as needed. Or you may need to add a long-acting bronchodilator, an inhaled steroid or some other type of medication.
Even with mild COPD, you are at an increased risk for respiratory infections. So, to stay healthy, you need to take steps to avoid being exposed to germs that cause this type of infection. Your first step is to get a yearly flu shot and a periodic pneumonia vaccine.
Also, do what you can to avoid coming into contact with others who are sick or who might be carriers of infection. During cold and flu season in the winter, it might be best to avoid being in public places as much as you can. In any event, practice thorough hand-washing when using public restrooms, etc.
Keep your heart healthy
In research called The Lung Health Study, experts found that heart disease was one of the most common causes of hospitalization in people with mild COPD. In fact, the risk of heart disease is doubled in people who have mild COPD, as compared to those who do not have COPD.
Researchers are not entirely sure why this is, but have suggested some of all of the following:
- Chronic inflammation
- Oxidative stress
- Gene mutations
- Shared risk factors
Research suggests that steroid therapy, either orally or via inhaler, may be useful in preventing heart disease in people with mild COPD, but this is not conclusive and more studies are needed. Meanwhile, you can help yourself by making healthy food choices and by staying as active as possible.
Eating right will help you feel better, give you more energy and may even boost your immune system. If you need to lose weight, eating healthy will also help with that, and that can help reduce your symptoms, such as shortness of breath during activity.
Being active can increase your muscle tone and endurance, improve your mood, help you stay independent and even improve your lung function. If you haven't been active for some time, start slow and increase from there. Walking and swimming are often the easiest way to get started.
Put these steps into action
People who have mild COPD don't always find out in time to take the steps outlined above. But, if you have been diagnosed, then do what you can to put each of these tips into practice. I promise you that you will feel better if you do so.
What stage was your COPD diagnosed as?