Staying Hydrated

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2024

Staying hydrated is a key part of managing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This means drinking enough of the right liquids every day. When the body does not have enough fluid to work well, dehydration occurs.1,2

Water is the most crucial nutrient for the body. It is important for many of the body’s processes, including:1,2

  • Transporting other nutrients throughout the body
  • Protecting the eyes and mouth
  • Lubricating the joints
  • Regulating the body’s temperature
  • Removing waste from the body

Water makes up more than 50 percent of our bodies. But we lose 2 to 3 quarts of water per day through sweating, breathing, and urinating. We need to replace water in our bodies by regularly drinking liquids. Talk to your doctor about the best way for you to stay hydrated.2-4

Why is staying hydrated important for people with COPD?

Staying hydrated is important for everyone, but it is especially important for people with COPD. COPD can cause changes to your body composition. This includes your hydration level and how well your body distributes fluids.1,5

In people with COPD, the mucus produced by the lungs can become thick and sticky. It can be hard to cough up. Drinking enough water can thin the mucus and make it easier to clear the lungs. This makes it easier to breathe.1,2,6,7

Clearing your lungs better can also help reduce your risk of infections. People with COPD who are on oxygen therapy may have dryness and irritation in their nasal passages and airways. Drinking enough water can help prevent this.8

How much water should I drink every day?

Experts advise people with COPD without fluid restrictions to drink at least 48 ounces of water every day. This is at least 6 glasses of water. Other factors may affect how much water you should drink. For example, hot and humid conditions cause more water loss from sweating. Limit your time in these conditions and drink more water in these conditions.1,6

Drinking water throughout the day is the best way to stay hydrated. Frequent small sips are helpful if you cannot drink full glasses of water. Setting reminders to drink water can also help you remember, especially if you do not feel thirsty.2,7

What is a fluid-restricted diet?

On the other hand, some people with COPD have other conditions that cause their body to retain too much fluid. They may need to go on a fluid-restricted diet. Common causes of fluid retention include:1,2

  • Heart problems
  • High sodium levels
  • Certain types of medicines

People on a fluid-restricted diet drink only a certain amount of fluid per day. Your doctor will give you guidelines about how much to drink.1

What liquids are good for hydrating?

Plain water is the best source of hydration. But water can come from other drinks and liquids as well. Other sources of hydration include:1

  • Low-sugar fruit juice
  • Milk
  • Decaffeinated coffee and tea
  • Soup broth
  • Fruits and vegetables

Sports drinks and soft drinks contain water, but they usually also contain lots of added sugar and may worsen dehydration. People with COPD who are trying to lose weight should avoid or reduce drinks that contain added sugar. These should not be go-to drinks unless suggested by your doctor.1

Which liquids should I avoid?

Drinks that contain caffeine are not good for staying hydrated. They can increase how much water is lost through the urine. They also can interfere with certain medicines for COPD. Drinks that contain caffeine include:2,9

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Some soft drinks (for instance, Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Red Bull)

Drinks that contain alcohol can dehydrate rather than hydrate the body. They can also slow down breathing and make it harder to cough up mucus. These effects can be harmful for people with COPD, so avoiding alcohol is important.4

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