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Harvard Commentaries
Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Tips For Living With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

September 30, 2014

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
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Tips For Living With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Tips For Living With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, learn what you can do to keep your symptoms at bay.
InteliHealth/Harvard Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School



Avoid Potential Irritants
Both airborne irritants (for example, from cigarette smoke) and infections (for example, the flu) can increase mucus in the airways. For someone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), this makes it harder to breathe and can lead to a hospital visit.
If you have COPD, you can take the following preventive steps:
    • Do not allow smoking in your home, and stay away from smoky environments.
    • Eliminate aerosol sprays, including aerosol deodorants, hair sprays and insecticides (use sticks, pumps and creams instead).
    • When air pollution is high, stay indoors as much as possible and invest in an air conditioner so you can keep your windows closed.
    • If your work environment puts you in contact with lung irritants, you may need to consider changing jobs.
    • Always wash your hands with warm soapy water. Most respiratory infections are spread by hand.
    • Avoid touching your face with your hands during peak cold and flu season.
    • Get your yearly flu shot. Influenza, or the flu, is a respiratory infection that can be very serious for people with COPD. Symptoms include cough, fatigue and body aches.
    • Be sure you've been immunized against pneumococcal pneumonia, the most common form of bacterial pneumonia.

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Control Your Coughing And Breathing
Controlled breathing methods and controlled coughing can help you breathe easier.
    • Controlled coughing helps clear the mucus from your lungs. After taking a deep breath and holding it for a second or two, open your mouth slightly and cough twice, first to loosen mucus and then to cough it up. Pause a moment, and then breath in lightly through your nose to prevent further coughing before the mucus is expelled.
    • Pursed-lip breathing allows you to exhale a larger volume of air than you do when you breathe naturally. Breathe in through your nose and then exhale slowly through your mouth. As you exhale, purse your lips as if you are going to whistle. It is important to take more time to exhale than to inhale. Do not force the air out of your lungs; let it leave naturally. This type of breathing is especially helpful for people with emphysema.
    • Diaphragmatic breathing allows you to move your diaphragm to enlarge the chest cavity as you inhale and exhale. Place one hand on your chest and one hand just above your waist while lying flat on your back. This will help you monitor the movement in your chest versus your abdomen. Breathe in slowly through your nose to elevate the abdomen, not the chest. As you exhale slowly through pursed lips allow your abdomen but not your chest to move.

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Exercise And Eat Well
Exercise and good nutrition are important parts of maintaining optimal health for everyone, but especially if you have COPD. Keeping your muscles and lungs strong will make it easier to breathe.
You can increase your muscle strength and your exercise tolerance by starting small and gradually ramping up your exercise program. Walking is an excellent form of exercise for people with COPD because it requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. In addition, you can gradually increase your distance and your pace as your exercise tolerance improves.
Maintaining a proper diet helps maintain your energy and wards off potential infections. As with exercise, establishing good eating habits — for example, consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables — will only help your health.

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Work With Your Doctor And Other Health-Care Professionals
Work with your doctor and other health-care professionals by regularly scheduling visits to follow your lung and heart function. Your health-care professional will assess your breathing and will listen to your lungs and measure your oxygen levels.
If you are using oxygen at home, you may need more or less depending on your symptoms, oxygen level and any change in your disease. Pulmonary-function tests, lung scans or blood tests will periodically be repeated to monitor your disease. The doses of your medications may be increased or decreased depending on your symptoms.
And don't forget to get your flu shot every year. Any time you have symptoms of a cold or respiratory infection, consult a health care professional, because any infection can seriously affect your breathing.

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