Meet the Challenges of Living With COPD
COPD may discourage you from doing what you once enjoyed. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is a lung disease that can affect every part of your life. In fact, it affects the daily lives of an estimated 846,000 Canadians aged 35-79. As the disease progresses and affects physical ability, it’s common to feel anxious, burdened and discouraged from doing activities that you once enjoyed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right approach, you can overcome and prevent these limitations. Here are just a few tips to help you live well with COPD.
Taking your medications
First things first: taking medications is one part of managing your COPD, but a very important one. They can reduce your symptoms like shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and secretions. By treating your symptoms, COPD medications can help you feel better and do more on a daily basis.
It’s important to know:
- The name of each medication you’re taking
- What your medication does
- How much you should be taking and when
- How to take your medications properly
- Any precautions you should take and side effects
Using your inhaler
Most COPD medications are inhaled because they act directly in the lungs, and they work faster and with fewer side effects than medications that you swallow. That’s why it’s so important to know exactly how to use your inhalers, so your medication can reach your lungs. Every time you visit your doctor or pharmacist, ask them to review the proper technique for using your inhalers.
Recognizing “Lung Attacks”
“The first time I had a lung attack I was thinking, this is it. I’m going to die. And it’s true, what they say that when you can’t breathe, nothing else matters”.
The most common physical symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath, excessive sputum production and chronic cough. Worsening of these symptoms can lead to attacks of breathlessness, distress and feelings of suffocation. These instances can also lead to panic or sudden anxiety.
When COPD symptoms worsen and the worsening persists for 48 hours or longer, they are known as “lung attacks” or exacerbations. They’re often linked to bacterial or viral infection and can be a sign of underlying chronic inflammation.
Although lung attacks have a significant impact on quality of life COPD patients don’t always seek prompt care. Patients need to be more aware of worsening COPD symptoms and report these to their doctor as soon as possible.
The symptoms of COPD are most commonly triggered by indoor and outdoor pollutants, emotions, changes in temperature, and respiratory infections. Living well with COPD means managing your exposure to these triggers.
Indoor and outdoor pollutants
- Make sure your home and workplace is well ventilated and odour-free
- Try to stay indoors when outdoor air quality is poor or smoggy
- When in a car, keep windows shut to avoid car exhaust and gas fumes
- Avoid second-hand smoke
- Most importantly, if you smoke – quit!
- Talk to your friends and family when feeling stressed or anxious
- Practice slow, deep breathing and relaxation techniques
Changes in temperature
- When it’s cold, dress warmly and cover your nose with a scarf
- When it’s hot, stay in an air-conditioned environment and avoid strenuous activities
- Try to avoid contact with people who have a cold or flu – try talking on the phone, email or online chat instead
- Wash your hands frequently
- Get the flu shot and ask about the pneumonia vaccine
Managing your breathing
In addition to taking your COPD medication as directed, there things you can do to help manage your breathing. Using the following techniques can help you return your normal breathing patterns and regain your sense of control. They are especially useful when you start to feel panic or an acute attack of shortness of breath.
Pursed – Lip Breathing
- Inhale slowly through your nose until you feel that your lungs are filled air
- Purse your lips as you would if you were whistling or about to kiss someone
- Exhale slowly while keeping your lips pursed. Make sure to take longer to breathe out than you would to breathe in. Remember to keep your lips pursed. Do not force your lungs to empty.
- Place both feet on the ground
- Lean your chest forward slightly. This will decrease pressure against your diaphragm, allowing it to relax more
- Rest your elbows on your knees and rest your chin on your hands OR
- Rest your arms on a table and rest your head on a pillow
- Lean your chest forward slightly and rest your hands on your thighs OR
- Lean forward and rest your elbows on a piece of furniture and rest your head on your forearms OR
- Lean forward and rest your hands on a piece of furniture, but avoid “grabbing the table,” which can overwork your breathing muscles
Making the most of your energy
Your ability to manage your COPD is closely tied to your energy levels. In order to focus your efforts in the most efficient manner, follow the six Ps below.
- Prioritize your activities: Evaluate what you have to do and what you would love to do. Eliminate activities that are not necessary
- Plan your schedule: Be realistic and know your limits. Schedule activities that require more effort for times that you have the most energy
- Pace yourself: Slow down, divide difficult tasks into smaller steps and include relaxation breaks in your schedule
- Positioning: Position your body so that you have posture ideally with your elbows and/or forearms supported. Organize and arrange your home or workplace to reduce the need for reaching or bending
- Pursed-lip breathing: Use this technique when doing physical activities. Time your exhale so it occurs at the point where effort is required (e.g., when opening a heavy door, first inhale, then exhale as you pull it open)
- Positive attitude: Try not to worry about future events and try to be patient and tolerant toward yourself, your family and your friends
Take advantage of online pulmonary rehab or supervised exercise programs
COPD Canada can direct you to online pulmonary rehab or supervised exercise programs that have been created specifically for the COPD community. The programs were developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the shuttering of in-person pulmonary rehab facilities throughout the country.
For more information on these rehab programs visit: www.copdcanada.info
This is just some information how taking your medications and preventing symptoms are the first steps toward a fulfilling life with COPD. There are many more courses of action available to you, including eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, getting a good night’s sleep, having a satisfying sex life, and planning for leisure activities and trips.