Your lifestyle plays a critical role in the treatment of COPD. By making certain lifestyle changes, you may be able to reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Your doctor may recommend that you participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation program, which incorporates many of these lifestyle changes into a comprehensive program that also includes the support of your peers.

General Guidelines for Managing COPD

]]> Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking]]> slows the progression of COPD. Doctors consider smoking cessation the most important aspect of treatment. Patches and prescription pills are available to treat your addiction to smoking. If you cannot quit on your own, programs are available that use behavior modification techniques and medications to help you gradually taper off cigarettes. Quitting smoking may reduce your risk of dying from COPD. No other treatment can give you this benefit.

Exercise Regularly

Regular physical activity builds endurance and promotes an over-all sense of well-being. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for activity levels and possible restrictions. In addition, special breathing exercises and methods of breathing can strengthen chest muscles and make breathing easier.

Eat a Healthful Diet

Excess weight causes the lungs and heart to work harder, which they are already doing because of COPD. For some people with COPD, the extra work of breathing can make eating enough food difficult. This can result in weight loss, which increases your risk of infection and worsening of your COPD.

Special eating considerations for people with COPD include:

  • Eat several small meals during the day, rather than three large meals. Smaller meals will cause less pressure on the diaphragm, which will make breathing easier.
  • Avoid sodas and gas-producing foods. The gas in sodas and that produced by some vegetables, such as broccoli, can inflate the stomach and push up on your diaphragm, making it harder for the lungs to expand.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Keeping well hydrated will help keep mucus thin, which makes it easier to cough up.
  • Avoid high-salt foods. These foods can make you more likely to retain fluids, which can make breathing more difficult.
  • Eat a balanced diet that is low in saturated fat and rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Nutritional supplements are available if you can’t eat enough.

Avoid Close Contact with People Who Have Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections, such as colds and flu, can make the symptoms of COPD much worse. Whenever possible, try to avoid close contact with people who have these contagious infections. It is recommended that patients with COPD get a pneumonia vaccination and yearly flu shots.

Avoid Excessive Heat, Cold, and Very High Altitudes

Extreme cold can cause the airways to constrict, and excessive heat can also stress the heart and lungs. Air conditioning in the hot summer months can make breathing easier. Oxygen pressure is much lower at high altitudes, which makes breathing difficult. Be aware of this if you are traveling through mountainous regions. In addition, commercial aircraft generally maintain cabin pressure equal to an elevation of 5,000 to 10,000 feet, which can make breathing very difficult if you have COPD. If you are going to fly, talk to your doctor about the use of supplemental oxygen.

Avoid Exposure to Environmental Irritants

Avoid exposure to dust and fumes and all contact with cigarette smoke. Be aware of air pollution alerts, and avoid outdoor activities when air quality is particularly poor. If you exercise, avoid doing so in areas where levels of car exhaust are high.

Learn Breathing Techniques

Breathing techniques, also known as breathing retraining, such as diagphragmatic breathing or pursed-lip breathing can help relieve symptoms of shortness of breath and make you breathe more efficiently and feel more comfortable. A respiratory therapist may be able to teach use these kinds of techniques.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

Learn relaxation techniques and other methods to manage stress. These may help reduce shortness of breath and concern about difficult breathing. Anxiety increases the rate of respiration, making breathing more strenuous. Seek emotional support from professionals, family, friends, and other persons with COPD. Ask your healthcare provider which stress management techniques are appropriate for you.

Treat Heartburn

If you have chronic heartburn, the acid backflow (called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD) can also serve to worsen your COPD symptoms. Make sure to bring this up with your healthcare provider to see if you are a candidate for treatment.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if:

  • You need assistance with smoking cessation
  • You experience increased difficulty breathing, especially if this occurs suddenly
  • You need help determining the right level of exercise
  • You have difficulty eating or experience marked, unplanned changes in body weight
  • You develop a respiratory infection that is further compromising your lung function or you need a flu shot
  • You need advice on traveling or need more information about supplemental oxygen
  • You need help relaxing or are interested in joining a COPD support group