Staying Hydrated

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2015. | Last updated: June 2022

For people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), staying hydrated is a key part of managing the disease. Staying hydrated means drinking enough of the right kinds of liquids every day.

Water is the most crucial nutrient that our bodies need. It is important for many of the body’s processes, including:

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

In fact, the human body is made up of more than 50% water. Through sweating, breathing, and urinating, a person loses 2-3 quarts of water per day. Therefore people need to replace the water in their bodies by regularly drinking liquids. Some foods contain lots of water, as well.

Why is staying hydrated important for people with COPD?

Staying well hydrated is important for everyone, but it is especially important for people with COPD. The disease can make the mucus produced by the lungs become thick, sticky, and difficult to clear out by coughing. Drinking enough water can thin the mucus and make it much easier to cough up. This clears the lungs and makes it easier to breathe.

Drinking enough water can also help COPD patients fight off infections. COPD patients who are on oxygen therapy sometimes have symptoms of dryness and irritation in the nasal passages and airways because of the therapy. Drinking enough water can help prevent this.

The usual advice for COPD patients is to drink about 64 to 86 ounces of water every day. This is about 8 to 12 glasses of liquid.

What is a fluid-restricted diet?

Some people with COPD may be advised by their healthcare providers to go on a fluid-restricted diet, because their bodies are retaining too much fluid. Common causes of fluid retention are:

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

Patients on a fluid-restricted diet are only supposed to drink a certain amount of fluid per day. These patients should follow their healthcare provider’s guidelines about how much to drink, rather than drinking the 8-12 glasses per day.

What liquids are good for hydrating?

Plain water is the best source of hydration. However, water can be ingested from many other types of liquid. Other sources of hydration include:

  • Fruit juice
  • Milk
  • Decaffeinated coffee
  • Broth soups
  • Vegetables such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, and melons

Other liquids such as sports drinks and soft drinks contain water as well, but they usually contain lots of sugar, too. COPD patients who are trying to lose weight should usually avoid drinks that contain added sugar.

Which liquids should be avoided?

Drinks that contain caffeine are not as good for staying hydrated, and they can interfere with certain medicines that COPD patients take. Drinks that contain caffeine are:

  • 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. Both of those effects can be harmful for people with COPD.

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