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Living with Lung Disease

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), that generally means you have emphysema or chronic bronchitis. When you have COPD, your airways, which are normally elastic, with a sort of springy quality, become loose and floppy. It becomes difficult to get air in and out.

Whoís Most Likely to Develop COPD?
Smoking is the most common cause of COPD. But itís not the only cause. You can also develop COPD if youíve been in contact for a long period of time with air pollution, chemical fumes, vapors and dust. Many cases of COPD are related to the type of employment a person has had. Breathing in chemical fumes and dust year after year can irritate and damage your lungs, which is why itís extremely important to wear protective gear on the job.

What are the symptoms of COPD?
Symptoms of COPD include:

  • A cough that doesnít go away
  • Coughing up a lot of mucus
  • Shortness of breath, especially when you exercise
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest

There is currently no cure for COPD, but there are things you can do to help slow the progression of the disease and to help you live your life in a productive, satisfying way.

Living with COPD: What You can Do
First of all, itís extremely important to be in close contact with your doctor and your pulmonary rehab team. They can monitor you closely to make sure youíre getting the right medications and right treatments for the current phase of your COPD. The more you stay on top of it, the slower the disease progression is likely to be. Follow their recommendations not just regarding drugs, but also regarding exercise, nutrition, breathing exercises and anything else they recommend.

In addition, here are some things you can do to give yourself the best possible chances of keeping your disease in check:

If you smoke, try your very best to quit. Thatís easier said than done, we know, but it really is one of the best ways to help yourself feel better. Get help from your healthcare team. They can work with you to figure out a quit method that should work well for you, and they can help support you along the way. Donít forgetóstudies have shown that people who get help from their doctors have higher quit-smoking success rates.

Do your best to avoid contaminated air.
For example, when you cook, try to keep a window open. If you have any painting done, try to get it done when youíre not home. When the air pollution level is high, try to stay inside. If you get outdoor exercise, try to do it in the early morning, away from busy roads, when pollution is at its lower levels. Stay away from smoky areas, and if someone who lives with you smokes, try to get that person to smoke outside.

Try to keep your weight in a healthy range. Being overweight makes your heart work harder, and that contributes to shortness of breath. If youíre underweight, your energy level is likely to be lower than it would be if you were at a normal weight.

Try to create a ďtake it easyĒ lifestyle. What do we mean by this? Donít be afraid to ask for help from friends and family. Wear clothing thatís easy to put on and take off. Wear comfortable shoes. Use tongs with long handles or poles to help you move things. Consider having a small table on wheels in the kitchen, so that you donít have to carry things around as much.

Consider acupuncture treatments. Many small studies have shown that people with COPD experience symptom relief from regular acupuncture treatments. It canít hurt to give it a try. The only thing you have to lose is the time it takes you to get to your appointments, and the money it takes to pay for it. Some health plans even cover acupuncture treatments.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

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