The symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including shortness of breath, wheezing, and chronic cough, can make daily tasks more challenging.
Everyday things that may not seem physically demanding can be difficult for someone with COPD. Eating, getting dressed, and doing household tasks can be hard to manage when a person has trouble breathing.
However, a COPD diagnosis doesn't have to mean that a person will lose their independence, or that they will have to stop enjoying their favorite activities.
Following a treatment plan can significantly improve a person's life and help them find their "new normal."
Keeping up with life with COPD
For people with COPD, quitting smoking is highly recommended.
With some changes and effective treatments, many people with COPD can lead fulfilling lives. Though the diagnosis of COPD can be overwhelming, there are ways to make everyday life easier and more enjoyable:
- Quitting smoking. This is the best way to help the lungs heal and function at their best, and it benefits the heart and other organs as well. Quitting smoking also strengthens a person's immune system.
- Allowing more time to get to and from appointments and events. People can try setting an alarm with an extra 10-20 minutes of time to get out the door. This can help avoid stress, anxiety, and rushing, which can lead to more shortness of breath or wheezing.
- Considering ways to modify tasks to make them easier to do. Breathing exercises and rest breaks can make walking or gardening more enjoyable, for example.
- Explaining COPD symptoms to friends and family. If others understand that certain activities are more difficult, they can provide support and compassion. This can reduce worry and give others the opportunity to help when needed.
People should be open with doctors and members of their healthcare team. With a new COPD diagnosis, symptoms may be confusing or even frightening. Talking to the healthcare team about symptoms and challenges helps people to work through them, learn the best way to stay healthy, and still take part in life's activities.
COPD and medical appointments
After a person has been diagnosed with COPD, they will have to attend regular appointments with their doctor and get used to new treatments. Developing a treatment plan is an essential part of living well with COPD. A treatment plan may include medications, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, lifestyle changes, and education about COPD.
People with COPD sometimes have a large healthcare team around them that can include doctors, nurses, therapists, dietitians, psychologists, social workers, and spiritual advisors such as a chaplain. All of these professionals play an important role in helping a person with COPD stay as healthy as possible.
Many patients have regular pulmonary rehabilitation appointments. A study in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease suggests that pulmonary rehab can help people with COPD lead quality lives in a number of ways, including increasing their ability to exercise.
In addition to medical care, people with COPD can make some changes at home to keep themselves feeling well and to help manage symptoms. With the right treatment and home changes, many people with COPD can continue to do what they enjoy.
Diet changes for COPD
A healthful diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables alongside other healthful whole foods is recommended for people with COPD.
Eating is a part of daily life, and people with COPD should follow a healthful diet to help with their condition. Choosing the right foods may help a person with COPD continue their daily activities because they will be healthier, more energetic, and less short of breath.
A diet suitable for people with COPD doesn't have to be overly strict or complex. In general, people with COPD should focus on healthful whole foods including:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables in different colors. Fresh and frozen are ideal, but canned fruits and vegetables are also fine if they have no sugar, salt, or additives.
- Whole grains. Ensure that breads and pastas are "100 percent whole grain" or "100 percent whole wheat," by checking the labels. Whole grain brown rice and steel-cut oatmeal are other popular whole grain choices.
- Legumes. Peas, beans, lentils and peanuts are common legumes that offer protein and fiber. If excess gas is an issue, these may need to be decreased or eliminated.
- Lean sources of protein. Eggs, fish, poultry, soy, and milk are healthful sources of protein, which is important for a healthy immune system.
- Probiotics. Probiotics are protective bacteria and yeast found in many fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and kombucha. Studies suggest a diet supplemented with probiotics, especially Lactobacillus, can decrease viral lung infections in people with COPD and help with heart health.
Many people with COPD will be given diet guidelines by their healthcare team. Following a healthful diet can have a strong impact on how a person feels and can help them avoid lung infections and other complications.
Though it may seem unrelated to the lungs, consuming healthful food is an effective way to help people with COPD feel better and remain active and involved in daily life. A study in Translational Research suggests that intake of certain vitamins and nutrients, especially vitamins E, D, C, and A, was associated with better lung function.
Physical activity and COPD
Studies suggest that staying active may reduce the mortality rate for people with COPD.
Exercise can - and should - be a part of life for people with COPD. Staying active with COPD may be difficult at first, but it is well worth the effort.
A moderate amount of exercise can help a person with COPD carry on with their everyday tasks without shortness of breath and other symptoms standing in their way. A study in the CHEST Journal suggested that the more active a person with COPD is, the lower their mortality risk.
Unfortunately, many people with COPD avoid exercise because they are afraid they will be short of breath or simply don't have the energy. As a person exercises less, their fitness level declines. Over time, they may be unable to do much activity at all.
This drop in fitness can be reduced if a person with COPD keeps physically active. Even those who haven't been active in the past can begin an exercise program slowly and gradually with a doctor's guidance. Though exercise cannot reverse COPD, it can help a person remain independent and healthy for as long as possible.
COPD breathing exercises
Breathing exercises are a special way of moving air in and out that can help relax the body and allow the lungs to take in more oxygen. These exercises help relieve immediate symptoms of COPD. They can also increase confidence so that a person feels less afraid to go for a walk, prepare a meal, or do other activities that they have always done.
Breathing exercises are a valuable tool for those with COPD. They can help a person remain active and involved in daily life.
The most common breathing exercises for COPD are pursed lip breathing and belly breathing. A pulmonary rehabilitation specialist can demonstrate how these are done and help people master them so they can be used anytime.
A person who has been diagnosed with COPD needs to stay as healthy as they can and should avoid illness as much as possible by:
- washing hands frequently with soap and water, especially before eating and touching the face and after using the bathroom
- getting vaccinated against flu, pneumonia, and pertussis (whooping cough)
- avoiding people who are sick
- getting adequate sleep and drinking plenty of water
Being mindful of illnesses and germs can help avoid lung infections, which can be serious.
A COPD diagnosis doesn't have to mean the end of enjoying life. With the guidance of a healthcare team and a healthful lifestyle, many people are able to continue some or all of their regular activities.