COPD exacerbations and flare-ups are taxing on both you and the healthcare system. Not to mention, they are one of the terrifying aspects of dealing with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and for a good reason. COPD exacerbations result in more than 100,000 deaths and over 500,000 hospitalizations each year. Did you know that within 30 days of hospitalization 21% of COPD patients will be readmitted to the hospital?
Imagine if you could make one simple change to your daily life that would reduce your chances of having a COPD exacerbation.
Or even better:
What if there were 13 simple changes and each of them can reduce your chances and they may even prevent exacerbations? Would you be interested to know what they were?
That’s exactly what we are going to share with you today in this post:
13 simple strategies that you can use to reduce your chances of experiencing and even prevent COPD exacerbations TODAY.
Table of Contents (Click one of the links below to go to that section of the post)
1. Pulmonary Rehab
2. Hydration is Key
3. Wash Your Hands Regularly
4. Reduce Indoor Air Pollution
5. Weather and Air Quality Reports Are Your Best Friends
6. Clean Your Home or Have Your Home Cleaned Regularly
7. A Fingertip Pulse Oximeter is a Necessity
8. Create a COPD Action Plan
9. Stay On Top of Medications and Vaccines
10. Dieting Makes a Huge Difference
11. Vitamin D
12. Regular Exercise for the Win
13. Get More Sleep
1. Pulmonary Rehabilitation
Visualize a COPD support group that offers education along with exercise sessions to help you adjust to life with COPD. That’s exactly what pulmonary rehab is. Pulmonary rehabilitation is one of the most important pieces to the puzzle when you have been diagnosed with COPD. In a controlled environment pulmonary rehabilitation gives you the courage to live an active, fun, and healthy lifestyle while managing your COPD exacerbations.
For starters, you will be in a group setting with other people diagnosed with COPD along with medical professionals who will educate you about your lungs and COPD. More importantly they will teach you little tricks to help ease some of those terrible COPD symptoms. There are several different components that make up a full pulmonary rehab course, these include but are not limited to:
- Educational sessions discussing: breathing techniques, exercise techniques, disease processes, respiratory medications, and oxygen therapy
- Exercise reconditioning sessions
- Nutrition education
- Energy conservation techniques
- Oxygen dosing (when applicable)
- Individualized counseling reviewing results of tests, program recommendations, exercise prescription, offered by a medical professional will answer any questions you may have
A standard pulmonary rehab program lasts six to ten weeks to ensure you are ready to treat and manage your COPD on your own. Most patients say pulmonary rehab was a key element to living a better life with COPD. Everyone we have spoken with has highly recommended other patients to go!
The first step to getting started with pulmonary rehab is to find a program. Here are a few different links for you to use to locate a program close to home:
Joining a pulmonary rehab program yields immediate benefits. While you may be meeting with the group weekly, you will be responsible for keeping up with the program while you are at home to stay in tip top shape for the next session.
Upon completion of the pulmonary rehab program you will be equipped with all the necessary tools to treat and manage the progression of your COPD and it will enhance the following 12 tips in this post! Not to mention, by following the pulmonary rehab program you can essentially minimize the amount and severity of exacerbations you may experience.
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2. Hydration is Key
When treating and managing your COPD it is imperative that you drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated can make an enormous difference in your COPD, but there are some recommended guidelines to follow.
When we say drink plenty of fluids, we mean caffeine-free liquids with as little sugar as possible. While the sugary and caffeinated drinks are tasty, they can dehydrate you and cause problems like bloating which can make it harder for you to breathe.
Obviously, water is the top fluid for hydration, but why is it so important to stay hydrated with COPD?
Your immune system runs at its highest ability when you have proper nutrition and proper hydration. You will be giving your immune system a much-needed boost by staying hydrated. Hydration will help prevent you from getting sick or experiencing more or worse COPD exacerbations. Proper hydration is especially important given that supplemental oxygen may dry your mucus membranes and cause irritation.
Staying hydrated also thins your mucus making it much easier for you to expel from your body.
It is recommended that you drink 64 to 86 ounces of caffeine-free liquids every day. That equals 8 to 12 cups. Here are the best fluids for staying hydrated:
- Real Fruit Juice (with little to no added sugar)
- Decaf Coffee
- Decaf Tea
It may be hard to cut out some of your favorite drinks like soda, but it’s important to do the best job you can to take care of yourself. Yes, you can treat yourself to a soda every now and then, but make sure to follow it up with a glass of water or two so your soda doesn’t dehydrate you. If you need some ideas or tricks on how to drink more water every day, click here.Click Here to Go Back To The Top
3. Wash Your Hands Regularly
Getting sick plays a major role in experiencing COPD exacerbations. Something as small as a minor head cold can wreak havoc on your ability to breathe and your immune system. Having a hard time breathing and a compromised immune system can easily cause a COPD exacerbation.
As you touch different surfaces and objects throughout the day germs begin to build-up on your hands. As the germs accumulate you can infect yourself by touching your eyes, nose, and/or mouth.
While it is impossible for you to keep your hands germ-free, frequently and regularly washing your hands is easily one of the best ways to reduce your chances of experiencing an exacerbation from getting sick.
Washing your hands takes a little more work than just putting your hands under running water. Here is a step-by-step process on how to properly wash your hands from the Mayo Clinic:
- Wet your hands with running water – either with warm or cold water
- Apply liquid, bar, or powdered soap
- Lather well
- Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Remember to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers, and under your finger nails.
- Rinse well
- Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer
- If possible, use a towel or your elbow to turn off the faucet
Now that you know how to properly wash your hands, it’s time to determine when you should wash your hands, aside from when they look dirty.
Always wash your hands before any of the following activities:
- Preparing food
- Treating wounds
- Giving medicine
- Caring for a sick or injured person
Always wash your hands after any of the following activities:
- Preparing food, especially raw meat or poultry
- Using the toilet
- Changing a diaper
- Touching an animal, animal toys, leashes, or waste
- Blowing your nose
- Coughing/sneezing into your hands
- Treating wounds
- Caring for a sick person
- Handling garbage
- Using chemically based cleaners
- Utilizing garden chemicals
- Shaking hands with others
When washing your hands, keep in mind that regular soap will do the job just as well as antibacterial soap. In fact, using antibacterial soap may lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the soap’s antibacterial agents. It’s also important to remember that washing your hands with soap and water instead of using hand sanitizer is better for your immune system. Using hand sanitizer kills 99.9% of germs including the good ones, but it will work in a pinch if you can’t get to a sink.Click Here to Go Back To The Top
4. Reduce Indoor Air Pollution
Keeping your home free of indoor pollutants can vastly improve your quality of life while minimizing the amount of exacerbations you may experience throughout the year. The amount of indoor pollutants that could be in your house may surprise you. Fear not, most are quick and easy fixes. Here is a list of indoor pollutants:
- Chemicals from cleaners and air fresheners
- Fumes from perfumes, colognes, and hairspray
- Pet dander
- Smoke from cigarettes, fires, cooking, and wood-burning stoves
There are many different things you can do and strategies you can use to reduce and even eliminate the amount of indoor pollutants you are exposed to.
Dealing With Dust
Dust can cause a flare-up of symptoms in a heartbeat, especially if you suffer from allergies. By keeping your home as dust free as possible you will improve the quality of air that you breathe and reduce your chances of experiencing an exacerbation. Here are a few tips on how to make your house as dust free as possible and maintain that level of cleanliness:
- Dust surfaces regularly to prevent buildup
- Get air ducts cleaned periodically
- Clean or replace air filters at least twice per year
- Cover mattress, box spring, and pillows in dust-mite resistant covers
- Wash sheets, blankets and pillow cases once a week in hot water (at least 131 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Eliminate dust collecting décor like stuffed animals and decorative items
- Remove piles of magazines and books (they degrade overtime and produce more dust)
- Use fewer textiles like throw blankets, pillows, and tablecloths as they can produce and trap dust
- Pay attention to seasonal allergies and keep windows closed when allergen counts are high or high winds are anticipated
- Have friends, family, and all guests take off dirty shoes at the door
- Vacuum carpets regularly (twice per week if possible)
- If practical/within your budget replace carpeting with wood floors
If possible, it’s best to have someone clean for you or help you clean. For one, cleaning can take a lot of energy and leave you feeling short of breath. Also, when you vacuum and dust you are exposing yourself to a lot of dust that gets kicked up in the act of cleaning. By reducing your contact with the dust particles you’re keeping your lungs as healthy as possible.
We recommend choosing cleaning products that are hypoallergenic. To dust, you might want to consider the new Clorox Triple Action Dust Wipes these are excellent for dust, hair, and allergens. Or, try Hypo-Allergenic Dusting and Cleaning Spray by Endust which is formulated with less-irritating ingredients and free of perfumes and fragrances that could trigger COPD expirations. Continue reading for our recommendations of organic cleaning solutions.
As you know, being exposed to fumes, scents, and smoke throughout the day can really cause problems with your COPD. In fact, if you are sensitive to strong scents or fumes and happen to inhale them you may experience chest tightness and shortness of breath almost immediately. Eliminating fumes from your home is much less work than making your home dust free. Here are some tips on how to eliminate strong scents and fumes from your home:
- Replace chemically based cleaners, especially those with bleach or ammonia, with “green” cleaning supplies, soap and water, baking soda, or vinegar
- If you can’t replace your cleaning products, have someone else do the cleaning for you to avoid the harmful fumes
- If you don’t have someone that can help you clean, the COPD Foundation recommends wearing a respirator mask rated “N95” by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
- Use unscented shampoo, soap, deodorant, and hair spray
- Avoid cigarettes at all costs
- Avoid using wood burning fire places and stoves, the smoke produced can cause complications with your COPD
- Keep your home properly ventilated
- Use an air purifier with a HEPA filter
Once you start making changes in your home and eliminate the fumes, scents, and smoke that irritates your lungs you will immediately notice a difference in how your feel. It will also be easier for you to control your symptoms.
Living in areas with high humidity can make it harder for you to breathe and possibly trigger an exacerbation, especially when the humidity invades your home. Low humidity areas are ideal for COPD patients like yourself, with 40% humidity being the sweet spot. You can easily and accurately check the humidity levels in your house with this inexpensive humidity monitor from Amazon.
Unfortunately, you can’t do anything to reduce the humidity outdoors, aside from moving, but you can and absolutely should control the humidity levels in your house. The steps you take to do so will be dependent on the weather outside. In order to control the humidity levels in your house, follow these tips:
- Watch the weather index to get an idea of how humid it is going to be that day
- Properly ventilate your home, especially areas that create moisture like the kitchen, laundry room, and bathroom
- Use fans to increase ventilation
- Take colder, shorter showers
- Open or close your windows based on the humidity and temperature outside
- Use a dehumidifier to reduce humidity
- Use a humidifier to increase humidity
- Adjusting the AC or heat also helps control humidity levels
Moisture Breeds Bacteria
Moisture build up may go unnoticed until it’s too late and your symptoms start to flare-up. Simply put, moisture breeds bacteria, mold, and mildew which can reduce air quality and can be detrimental to managing your COPD. By following these simple steps, you can nip moisture build up in the bud and improve the air quality in your home right now:
- Repair all leaks that may be present
- Immediately wipe up spills
- Use fans to increase ventilation in kitchens and bathrooms
- Replace sponges frequently
- Clean or replace showerheads at least twice per year
- Throw out water damaged carpet or cushions
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5. Weather and Air Quality Reports Are Your Best Friends
Staying up-to-date on weather, pollen, and pollution reports can save you from a terrible COPD exacerbation. There are a few important factors to be mindful of, especially if you also suffer from asthma. Extreme temperatures, high pollen counts, and high pollution counts have all been known to cause COPD symptoms to flare-up and possibly cause hospitalization.
With these tips you will know what to look for, how to prevent yourself from getting exposed to the elements, and how to prepare yourself if you absolutely have to go outside when the tables are turned against you.
Extreme Temperatures and Weather Conditions
Dealing with extreme temperatures can be frustrating for anyone. Depending on where you live, extreme temperatures are present for almost half of the year. During the summer months extreme heat and humidity, with some areas regularly breaching triple digit temperatures, are a concern. During the winter you might be subjected to frigid temperatures and strong winds.
With a few exceptions to the rule, hot and humid climates cause COPD symptoms to flare-up. There are a select few people with COPD who do better in humid weather. Hotter temperatures also usually lead to higher pollution counts and lower air quality scores. Here are a few tips to help you beat the heat and manage your COPD symptoms during the summer:
- Check weather reports daily
- Stay inside an air-conditioned environment on the hottest and most humid days
- Limit activities to stay cool
- If you must go outside, go when the temperature is as mild as possible (preferably in the morning or the evening)
- Stay hydrated and drink a lot of water, not only does it help thin mucus and boost your immune system, but it will also help regulate your body temperature
When the weather gets cold and windy, COPD symptoms are tough to manage. In fact, cold weather and strong winds are known to be COPD exacerbation triggers. Cold temperatures can also cause you to be fatigued even if you haven’t had to exert yourself. Here are some tips that will help you reduce exacerbations in the winter:
- Avoid going outside in the extreme cold
- Avoid going outside when it’s really windy
- When you go outside wear a loosely worn scarf or face mask over your nose and mouth
- Breathe in through your nose when outside, this warms the air up before it reaches your lungs
- Keep your oxygen tubing inside your clothing to warm the air
- Wear several layers of loose clothing to protect you from the cold without restricting your breathing
- Keep your inhalers warm as their optimum operating temperatures range between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit
Air Quality Is Key
As we mentioned before, COPD and air quality go hand in hand. Environmental pollution is one of the leading risk factors of COPD for non-smokers. When you expose yourself to high levels of pollution you are putting yourself at risk of experiencing an exacerbation. Depending on where you live, it may be harder to completely avoid pollution, especially in a major city like Los Angeles or New York. However, if you take these tips and apply them to your everyday life you will be able to minimize your exposure:
- Regularly check the air quality index which can be found here
- Watch the news or read the paper to get warnings on pollution levels in your area
- Follow advice from public service announcements telling you what level of outdoor activity is okay
- Avoid poor air and harmful fumes when traveling by car
- Take alternate, less crowded routes to your destination during rush hour
- Plan your travel when traffic is light
- Travel with your air conditioning on and windows rolled up (keep one window cracked to prevent oxygen from accumulating while you are traveling)
- Stay indoors when air quality reports are poor
- Keep windows closed and air conditioning on in your home on high pollution days
Pollution isn’t the only thing that can affect the air quality for COPD patients. If you suffer from allergies it’s important to watch pollen counts for your area because allergies can cause your symptoms to flare-up in no time. Although there are several over-the-counter allergy medicines available, there are several different things you can do to prevent your allergies from affecting your COPD.
- You should check the allergy forecast for your area every day. It can be viewed here
- If the allergy forecast is medium-high you will want to stay inside and keep your windows and doors closed and your air-conditioning unit on
- Check with your doctor to see what allergy meds are okay for you to take
- Regularly clean or have someone clean your house to prevent dust and pet dander from building up
- Have your pet, if they go outdoors, brushed regularly as they are known to bring dust, dirt, and pollen into your home
- If you must go outside when the allergy forecast is not favorable, carry your inhaler with you
6. Clean Your Home or Have Your Home Cleaned Regularly
Having a clean household can make a big difference when it comes to managing your COPD and preventing exacerbations. Indoor air pollutants are a major risk factor for exacerbations and will make it extremely hard to effectively manage your disease.
Indoor air pollution comes from various sources including, but not limited to; wood burning stoves, wood burning fireplaces, dust build up, pet dander, chemically based cleaners, perfume, and cologne. Don’t be intimidated by the long list of pollutants, we will go over how to minimize your exposure and offer alternative methods and products that will be COPD friendly.
First and foremost, if it’s feasible for you to do so, hire a service or ask a family member to clean for you. Not only do you have to worry about dust, fumes, and your COPD but cleaning with COPD requires a lot of energy and planning. There are services like Molly Maid, Merry Maids, and Maid Brigade that will come out to your house and clean on a regular basis.
If hiring a maid service isn’t an option, consider asking your children or grandchildren to clean for you or help you clean. After the original deep cleaning it will just need to be maintained which shouldn’t be too much to ask of loving family members. The list of cleaning duties would include:
- Dust all surfaces often, including lampshades and windowsills with a damp cloth
- Vacuum weekly with allergen-proof vacuum bags (you may also wear a mask for extra protection)
- Wiping down and disinfecting countertops
- Keep bathrooms clean and dry
- Washing dishes
If a cleaning service isn’t an option and you don’t have family nearby it’s important that you clean regularly within your means. Before we can get into a regular cleaning schedule we need to go over some quick tips that will help reduce indoor air pollution before the cleaning even starts.
Get Your Air Ducts Cleaned Periodically
Hiring a professional duct cleaning service will drastically increase the air quality in your home depending on the last time you got them cleaned. According to the EPA, if there is substantial visible mold growth, the ducts have an infestation of insects or rodents, or if the ducts are excessively clogged and are releasing particles into the home then you should have this cleaning done right away.
Make sure your professional duct cleaning service cleans all of the duct system. If they do not, your ducts will become re-contaminated almost immediately. If you have a furnace, stove or fireplace make sure to have it inspected once a year to make sure it is not releasing deadly carbon monoxide fumes. However, you don’t want to get your air ducts cleaned just to have them cleaned.
Look for the following signs to tell if your ducts need to be cleaned:
- Visible mold on the ducts or other heating and cooling components
- Vermin in the ductwork
- Dust, debris, and other particles clogging the ducts and being released through supply registers
If you decide your ducts need to be cleaned here are some tips to ensure you deal with a reputable company that cares about your situation and your well-being:
- Only deal with a reputable and professional company. Make sure you check for licensing, look up reviews online, and ask for references
- Make sure you let the cleaning company know they can’t use biocides or chemical treatments because of your COPD
- Ensure the company will protect you and whoever else lives in your house from being exposed to chemicals and contaminants that may come loose during the cleaning
- Leave your house while they clean your ducts
Get Rid of Chemically Based Cleaning Supplies
No matter how good of a job they do, chemically based cleaning supplies can be detrimental to your COPD symptoms and spark an exacerbation whether you’re doing the cleaning or not. However, there is more risk involved if you are the one cleaning.
The mix of chemicals in each cleaner gives off fumes that you are breathing in every second you clean and for minutes, or in some cases, hours after you finish. There may be a few items you can’t do without like plain bleach or ammonia, but it would benefit you to remove as many chemically based cleaners from your house as possible. Look for “green” cleaners that are all natural or you can use a water and vinegar solution and baking soda. There aren’t many things vinegar and baking soda can’t clean.
We recommend using vinegar and baking soda since neither of them are lung irritants. Here are some “recipes” and instructions for cleaning solutions using vinegar, water, baking soda, dish detergent, and ammonia (when needed).
Remember, when using ammonia or bleach to clean you will want to keep the mixture away from your face so you don’t breathe in the fumes. If possible, we recommend using a mask or respirator when using ammonia or bleach.
- Pour two cups of baking soda around the inside of your toilet bowl and scrub with a long handled brush to prevent bending at your waist and then flush the toilet when you finish scrubbing
- Pour two cups of vinegar inside the toilet bowl and swish around the entire bowl and then flush the toilet
- Make sure your toilet is not clogged when using this method to clean. If it is clogged the baking soda and vinegar will react and that’s a mess no one wants to deal with
- Sprinkle baking soda over the affected area
- Let the baking soda sit and do its work (the longer it sits, the better job it does) and it’s okay if you walk on the area you are treating
- After you let it sit you will vacuum the treated area thoroughly
- Get a large spray bottle and put a half cup of baking soda into the bottle
- Fill with enough water to dissolve the baking soda
- Very slowly add a cup of vinegar to the bottle (the solution will begin to fizz a lot which is why you add the vinegar slowly)
- Top the mixture off with water and let it sit overnight
- In the morning flip it end over end to mix the solution (there will be more fizzing)
- When the fizzing stops your solution is ready to use
Grease Cutting Cleaner
- Follow the same recipe above for the All-Purpose Cleaner, but add a teaspoon of dish detergent
- Mix warm water with one cup of vinegar and two capfuls of ammonia
- Wear a mask or respirator and mix away from your face
- Wear mask or respirator as you clean with the solution
Tips to Clean Effectively and Efficiently with COPD
Before you start cleaning there are some tips and techniques you can use to conserve energy, cut out uncomfortable movements, and protect yourself from inhaling dust, fumes, and other particles while cleaning in a more effective and efficient way. Always remember, take frequent breaks as often as you need them while cleaning.
Tips to Remember While Vacuuming
When it comes to vacuuming it’s all about synchronizing your breathing pattern with the physical act of pushing/pulling the vacuum. Ideally you will want to use the pursed lip breathing technique.
- Take a deep breath before you start the vacuum
- Synchronize your breathing pattern with your movements as you push and pull the vacuum
- Exhale as you push the vacuum
- Inhale as you pull the vacuum
- Good posture is key and will keep your diaphragm open making it easier for you to breathe
- When emptying the vacuum, use a damp newspaper to trap dust particles and reduce the amount of dust particles getting in the air
Tips to Remember While Dusting
Dusting is very intimidating to some COPD patients and that’s understandable. It may seem like you are playing with fire by stirring up a known lung irritant, however these tips will reduce your exposure to dust particles and help you conserve energy along the way.
- Use a mask to prevent yourself from breathing in loose dust particles, we recommend a respirator just to be safe
- If possible dust while sitting down, this will eliminate the need for you to bend over to dust and it will conserve energy for later in the day
- When dusting areas that are hard to reach, use a long-handled duster to avoid reaching or climbing
- Avoid excessive furniture so you don’t have to move items around just to clean
Tips to Remember While Cleaning Your Floors
Cleaning your hard surfaced floors is very similar to vacuuming. You will want to focus on your pursed lip breathing technique and synchronize your breathing pattern with the physical act of pushing/pulling your broom or mop. If possible, avoid kneeling and scrubbing because it requires a lot of energy and bending over which can make it harder for you to breathe.
Sweeping/Mopping Your Floors
- Stand tall with good posture to avoid bending at your waist
- Synchronize your breathing pattern with your movements as you push and pull the mop/broom
- Inhale as you push the mop/broom
- Exhale as you pull the mop/broom
- Use a long handled dust pan when sweeping
- When possible use floor coverings that are low maintenance
Wiping Spills and Picking Up
- Use a small mop to wipe up spills to prevent bending at your waist or kneeling and scrubbing
- Use pick up tongs to pick articles up from the floor
- Use paper towels to reduce your laundry load
Kneeling and Scrubbing Your Floors
As stated above, if possible you should avoid kneeling and scrubbing your floors. However, if you absolutely have to here are some tips on how to scrub your floors with COPD:
- Use the pursed lip breathing technique
- Start in the kneeling position
- Take a deep inhale before bending down to scrub
- As you exhale bend down to start scrubbing
- Take as many breaks as you need
Tips to Remember While Making Your Bed
The first chore almost any of us had to do was make our bed. Now that you have COPD that chore takes a lot more time and a considerable amount of energy to complete. It’s easiest to make your bed if you do it bit by bit and don’t try to rush. Here are some helpful tips to use:
- Use the pursed lip breathing technique
- When straightening sheets do one side at a time
- Unfold your linen
- Line it up with the center of your bed
- Complete the side you are working on
- Move on to the other side
- When putting new sheets on do one side at a time
- Put bottom sheet, top sheet, and your blanket on all at once
- Tuck the bottom sheet on one side
- Tuck the bottom sheet on the other side
- Put pillows in your pillow case
Remember, don’t over exert yourself while cleaning. Take as many breaks as you need and enlist help from family and friends when possible. It might seem like a daunting task, but if you clean in bits and pieces rather than all at once you will be able to accomplish more without over exerting yourself.Click Here to Go Back To The Top
7. A Fingertip Pulse Oximeter is a Necessity
A fingertip pulse oximeter can vastly improve your chances of detecting early signs of an exacerbation and in turn it can help you prevent them from happening. So whether you were diagnosed with stage one COPD or stage four COPD, you should absolutely own a pulse oximeter.
Fingertip pulse oximeters work by using an infrared beam that reads your blood oxygen levels and your heart rate in a matter of seconds. Once it calculates your blood oxygen levels and your heart rate it will display the numbers on an easy-to-read screen. How can these readings be used to detect warning signs of an exacerbation? How can you use them to prevent exacerbations in the future?
As you regularly use a pulse oximeter you will notice a pattern in your blood oxygen levels that correlates with your activity level. When you are more active your oxygen levels may dip below normal for a little bit, which is expected since you were exerting yourself. When you are resting you will notice your oxygen levels don’t change much. This is where the regular use of a pulse oximeter will come in handy.
Throughout the day you will want to use your pulse oximeter to check and record your blood oxygen levels. This will help you learn what your normal blood oxygen levels are after exertion and at rest. As stated above, it is common for your blood oxygen levels to dip below normal after exertion, but they should steadily climb back up to your normal range. However, it’s a major red flag if your blood oxygen levels start to dip below normal when you are at rest.
A study done by R.W. Vandivier, from the Department of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine, at the University of Colorado at Denver concluded that the biggest red flag indicator of a COPD exacerbation is when your blood oxygen levels dip below 90% at rest. The other major indicators were; shortness of breath, FEV1, and coughing.
To help you get in the habit of using your pulse oximeter and recording your readings, here are some general times of when you should test your blood oxygen levels:
- Right when you wake up and get out of bed
- After you complete a chore or physical activity
- When you feel short of breath
- When you are sick
- When you are at high altitudes
- Before you go to bed
Aside from those times listed above, you should regularly check your blood oxygen levels throughout the day. A good time frame is once every two hours. This will help you get in tune with your body and you will begin to recognize how you feel when your blood oxygen readings are at a certain level.
If at any point your blood oxygen levels dip below 90% at rest, you should contact your doctor and seek medical attention immediately as this may be a sign you are experiencing or are about to experience a COPD exacerbation.
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8. Create a COPD Action Plan with your Physician
Having a COPD action plan can mean the difference between noticing and managing your exacerbation early enough to avoid hospitalization and getting hospitalized from your exacerbation. How might you ask? Well a COPD action plan is a plan created by you and your doctor to help you decide what action to take when you notice signs of an exacerbation.
Much like asthma action plans, COPD action plans have proven to be effective and follow the same three zone formula. The first zone is the green zone. The green zone means you are doing well and able to perform normal routines.
Next is the yellow zone. The yellow zone means you are having a bad day or are experiencing a flare-up.
The last and final zone is the red zone. The red zone is extremely dangerous and means you need to call 911 to get medical attention immediately. We will go more in-depth on the different zones shortly.
Before we go more in-depth on how the COPD action plan works, it’s important for us to tell you that this mock-up action plan is just a general action plan. You will have to sit down with your doctor and custom tailor your COPD action plan to your individual needs and current medical situation.
If you are in the green zone, you are good to go about your daily routines like normal. You aren’t coughing more than normal, you aren’t producing more phlegm, and you don’t have a constant feeling of breathlessness.
Actions to Take in the Green Zone
- Take your medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor
- Use your oxygen exactly as prescribed by your doctor (if prescribed oxygen)
- Continue your regular diet and exercise program
- Continue to avoid COPD triggers like cigarette smoke and chemically based cleaners, etc.
When you are in the green zone you don’t have many actions to take because you are already feeling well. It’s imperative that you continue taking your medication as prescribed by your doctor and that you use your supplemental oxygen as prescribed. By doing all of this you are giving yourself the best opportunity to successfully manage your COPD and prevent exacerbations from occurring.
If you are in the yellow zone you are either having a bad day or are experiencing a flare-up of symptoms. You may be feeling more breathless than normal, have less energy or feel more tired than usual, increased phlegm production (may notice a change in color), and you may have swelling of the ankles or feet. On top of those symptoms you may be taking your quick relief medications more often than normal, but it doesn’t help alleviate your symptoms.
Actions to Take in the Yellow Zone
- Continue to take your medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor
- Use quick relief medication every X hours
- The number of hours will be determined by you and your doctor when you create your action plan
- Begin use of corticosteroids as prescribed by your doctor
- Your doctor may prescribe this for you to have on hand in case of an emergency
- Start oral dose of antibiotics
- Your doctor may have prescribed this for you to have on hand
- Use your oxygen all-day and all-night, as prescribed by your doctor
- You may have to increase your flow rate, but that is determined by your doctor when you create the action plan
- Get plenty of rest
- Pay close attention to your diet
- Certain foods may make it harder to breathe
- Avoid soda and alcohol
- They are known to make it harder for you to breathe
- Use pursed lip breathing to make it easier for you to expel air from your lungs
- Use proper coughing techniques to help you get rid of phlegm
- Avoid cigarette smoke and all lung irritants at all costs
- Steer clear of anyone who may be sick
- If symptoms don’t improve, call for help immediately
The yellow zone can be very stressful and scary and when you become more stressed it can worsen your symptoms. Do your best to relax and take it slowly. Your main focus will be managing and alleviating your symptoms to the best of your ability within the action plan.
If you are in the red zone it means you are having a really bad day and are experiencing a COPD exacerbation. You may be unable to breathe unless you are sitting up in a chair with your AC on. It may be extremely difficult to move without getting short of breath. You may have a fever or the chills along with confusion or drowsiness. You may even be experiencing chest pains. If you feel like you are in the red zone you need to take immediate action.
Actions to Take in the Red Zone
- Take immediate action and call 911
- Do not call your doctor, you need immediate attention
- Do not have someone drive you to the hospital, it will take you too much time
- Call 911 to have paramedics come and give you immediate medical attention
The red zone is exceedingly scary and it’s even life threatening. It’s a necessity to take immediate action to get you the medical attention you need.
Remember, the COPD action plan above is a general outline and may not work for you. Call your doctor to set up an appointment to create your very own COPD action plan.
Once you create your COPD action plan you can use this checklist provided by COPD.com to help you stay up-to-date with your COPD symptoms and general health for your next doctors visit.Click Here to Go Back To The Top
9. Stay on Top of Medications and Vaccines
By effectively treating and managing your symptoms you should be able to manage and prevent COPD exacerbations, for the most part. This isn’t saying that by managing your symptoms you won’t ever experience an exacerbation, but it will help minimize the amount of exacerbations you experience and that is the ultimate goal. It goes without saying, but there is a method to your doctor’s madness. What he or she prescribes serves a purpose and it’s important to remember that as you continue your constant battle with COPD.
In order to efficiently and effectively manage your COPD you absolutely must take your medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor. As stated above, the goal of treating COPD is immediately treating and managing symptoms, so your doctor may change your medication or dosage depending on how you respond.
Since everyone responds differently to certain types of medication, we aren’t going into detail on the different types of medications. However, we are going to cover COPD medication guidelines and best practices to help you stay on top of your medications to better manage your COPD.
COPD Medication Guidelines
- Take your medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor
- Even if you feel good, do not stop taking your medication unless you talk to your doctor first
- Take your medications at the same time every day
- Set a reminder on your cell phone or tablet to help you remember
- Have a routine for taking your meds
- Use a calendar and a pill box to help you stay organized
- Wash your hands before preparing or taking your meds
- Regularly refill your prescriptions two or three business days before your medications run out
- DO NOT wait until you are out of meds before you attempt to refill them
- If for some reason you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember unless it is almost time for your next dose. Then simply skip your missed dose and resume your regular medication schedule
- DO NOT double up on your dosage to make up for the missed dose unless you are instructed to do so by your doctor
- DO NOT cut back on your medication dosage, you must take the full amount to get the full benefits
- DO NOT stop taking your medications for any reason without talking to your doctor first
- If you are concerned with how the medication is working or how it makes you feel ALWAYS consult your doctor before making any changes to your medication schedule
- Store your medications following the instructions on the bottle
- Frequently check to make sure your liquid medications haven’t changed color or formed crystals
- If they have changed color or formed crystals, throw them out and get new ones
- DO NOT take any OTC medicine or herbal remedies without speaking to your doctor first
- They could have adverse reactions with medications you are on now
Get Vaccinated for Your Own Good
There are several different benefits you will get from staying vaccinated with COPD. For starters, dealing with COPD on its own is tough enough, but when you add an illness like influenza or pneumonia to the mix it can be nearly impossible to manage. That’s one of the main reasons it’s so important to avoid big crowds during flu season and sick people in general. To keep yourself as protected as possible you will want to get these three vaccines unless your doctor recommends against it.
The flu is an extremely dangerous illness for COPD patients to come down with. It can increase mucus production which will cause you to cough more, make you feel short of breath, and it can cause you to have a fever or the chills just to name a few dangerous symptoms. Another danger of the flu for people with COPD is that it is notorious for turning into something more serious like pneumonia.
The benefits of a flu shot for people with COPD greatly outweigh the reasons you might avoid getting the vaccine. By getting vaccinated you will greatly reduce your chances of falling ill with the flu which also reduces your chances of the flu turning into pneumonia. On top of that, the flu vaccine may lower your chances of having an exacerbation.
COPD and pneumonia have a high comorbidity rate which means people with COPD are more likely to get pneumonia. Coming down with pneumonia can easily lead to experiencing an exacerbation or end you up in the hospital. By getting the pneumonia vaccine you will greatly reduce your risk of coming down with pneumonia. For the most part you will only need to get one pneumonia vaccine shot, however, your doctor may recommend a second shot.
While the pertussis vaccine isn’t as important as the flu or pneumonia vaccines, it still has its benefits for people with COPD. Pertussis is known as whooping cough and it can cause some major problems if you come down with it.
It may start as a normal cold with symptoms ranging from a mild cough to a low fever. However, after a week your mild cough will turn into long coughing spells that end with a whooping sound as you try to get a breath in after your coughing spell. Combining your COPD with whooping cough can lead to COPD exacerbations. By getting the pertussis vaccine you will reduce your risk of coming down with it and it may help you control your COPD.
Always consult your doctor about getting vaccinated. He or she will recommend what is best for you.Click Here to Go Back To The Top
10. Dieting Makes A Huge Difference
Having a healthy and COPD friendly diet is more than just making healthy choices, it’s about making smart and strategic choices that will improve your quality of life. By eating the right foods and eliminating the bad stuff from your diet you can boost your immune system, improve your lung function, and in turn, reduce your chances of experiencing an exacerbation.
It’s important to remember that you need to talk to your doctor before making any major changes in your diet. They may recommend going a different route or advise against a certain type of food depending on your personal situation.
In this section we will go in-depth as to what to add and what to remove from your diet and why. We will also cover some tips to help you prepare and eat your meals without using all of your energy.
COPD Super Foods
When you are battling a disease like COPD, you want to give yourself every possible advantage to manage your symptoms. By adding the following COPD super foods to your diet you may boost your immune system, increase your energy levels, and improve your lung function.
Remember, before you make any changes to your daily diet you should consult your physician or nutritionist.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
One of the most common symptoms of COPD is inflammation in your lungs. Although your doctors prescribe medicine to help alleviate inflammation in your lungs, you can add omega-3 fatty acids to your diet to help naturally fight off the inflammation. Along with reducing inflammation in your lungs, the long list of benefits you can get from omega-3 fatty acids includes; relieving joint stiffness and pain, help you manage depression, and added protection against Alzheimer’s and dementia to name a few.
To increase your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, consider adding these foods to your grocery list:
- Fatty Fish
- Lake Trout
- Flaxseed Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Canola Oil
Fresh, Bright, and Colorful Vegetables
Fresh veggies are an important part of any diet. However, it is the colorful and vibrant vegetables that have the most benefits for your COPD diet. Bright colorful veggies are packed to the brim with nutrients including; vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that help protect your body from free radicals that cause damage to your cells and tissues. Flash frozen vegetables are a good substitute if you are out of fresh veggies or don’t have the energy to prepare them. Here is a list of examples of vegetables for you to choose from:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Leafy Greens
- Brussel Sprouts
Whether you are just grabbing a snack or eating a full meal a good general guideline to follow is the “Half Plate Rule”. The Half Plate Rule is very simple and easy to follow, simply make your snack or meal and fill half of your plate with fruits or veggies. This will help ensure you are getting enough fruits and veggies in your diet.
Fresh, Bright, and Colorful Fruits
Just like the fresh veggies, incorporating fresh and brightly colored fruits into your diet is a necessity. Bright colored, fresh fruits are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals which play an important role in protecting your lungs. In fact, a recent study has suggested that adding just one more serving size of fruit (100 grams) a day may lower your mortality risk by as much as 24%. Here is a list of fruits to choose from:
When you are eating a snack or a full meal, remember to use the Half Plate Rule and fill up half of your plate with fruits and veggies. This will help ensure that you are getting enough fruits and veggies in your diet.
Fiber, Fiber, and More Fiber
Fiber has numerous benefits for your general health from regulating blood sugar levels to lowering your cholesterol. For COPD patients like yourself, fiber is important because it helps with digestion and can help control your weight. By maintaining a healthy weight you are lowering your risk of experiencing an exacerbation and boosting your energy levels. As a rule of thumb, women are recommended to consume 21-25 grams of fiber every day while men are recommended to consume 30-38 grams of fiber every day.
Here is a list of foods that are rich in fiber that you may want to consider adding to your diet:
- All-Bran Cereal
- Whole Grain Bread
- Brown Rice
- Fresh Fruit
- Fresh Vegetables
Remember to consult your doctor or nutritionist before changing your daily fiber intake. They may recommend a different amount to accommodate your needs.
Jumping for Soy
Although more research studies still need to be conducted, a research study done by Dr. Fumi Hirayama and Professor Andy Lee from Curtin University of Technology in Australia monitored 300 COPD patients and 340 non-COPD patients in the same age range to see how different levels of soy consumption affected the patients and the control group. The results of the study were promising. More soy consumed translated into fewer breathing problems, particularly the feeling of breathlessness and improved lung function. The group that saw the most benefits from soy consumed almost 60 grams per day. Here is a list of soy based foods to add to your diet:
- Soy Milk
- Bean Sprouts
- Soy Nuts
Although more research is needed, the results were extremely promising. As long as your doctor or dietician approves, adding soy to your diet may improve your lung function and reduce your feeling of breathlessness.
Foods You Want in Your Diet
Along with the COPD super foods listed above, you will want to make sure you eat lean protein, whole grain foods, and overall nutritious foods. By incorporating these foods in your diet, you will provide your body with the calories and nutrients you need to sustain energy levels, boost your immune system, and repair muscles.
Lean protein is an important aspect to almost any healthy diet, including your COPD diet. It is essential to repair muscles, it helps maintain muscle mass, it’s good for your heart, and it provides you with good “clean” energy. The reason why we emphasize lean protein is because lean proteins are lower in saturated fats and cholesterol. Here are some examples of lean protein:
- Fish High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Chicken (particularly white meat)
- Beef (chuck shoulder, top sirloin, round steaks, roasts)
- Pork (pork loin, tenderloin, ham)
- Soy Foods
As you already know, living with COPD requires a lot of energy. To satisfy your body’s need for energy, substituting simple carbs like white bread or white pasts for whole grain foods will not only help supply you with the energy you need, but whole grains have several different vitamins and minerals that will benefit your COPD.
Whole grain foods are complex carbohydrates that provide you with a healthy amount of calories, essential B vitamins, iron and magnesium. The calories and complex carbohydrates in whole grain foods are responsible for providing you with long-lasting energy to help you make it through the day.
Apart from providing long-lasting energy, whole grain foods are packed with nutrients that are beneficial for your COPD. Whole grain foods are high in B vitamins which are known to help improve your immune system which may have weakened due to your COPD. Whole grain foods are also high in fiber which helps with digestion and maintaining a healthy weight to lower your chances of exacerbating your symptoms. The magnesium in whole grain foods is necessary for protein production in your body and muscle contractions. Combine magnesium with calcium and the two act like a natural antihistamine. Finally, iron plays a vital role in treating and managing your COPD. It is a major component of hemoglobin which is responsible for carrying oxygen through your blood.
If you aren’t sure what counts as a whole grain food, here is a list of examples:
- Rice (brown, black, purple, red)
- Whole Wheat
- Wild Rice
- All-Bran Cereal
Due to the nutrients and caloric value of whole grain foods it’s recommended that you incorporate them into almost every meal, especially breakfast. Starting your day off with all-bran cereal, oatmeal, or whole wheat toast will help jumpstart your day and provide you with energy for the whole day.
While dieting for your COPD has very specific guidelines to follow, overall you just want to focus on eating healthier. Make smart, educated decisions at the grocery store and at your favorite restaurants. Opt for grilled chicken instead of fried. Choose water over sugary, carbonated drinks. Substitute vegetables for French fries. In the end, you are only benefiting yourself by making the healthy choices. On that note, we will discuss foods to avoid with COPD.
Foods to Avoid with COPD
Just like there are super foods for COPD, there are also foods that can easily have a negative effect on your COPD symptoms and potentially cause you to experience an exacerbation. By reducing the amount of these foods that you consume you may leave yourself feeling better, with more energy, reduce your feeling of breathlessness, and better manage your symptoms.
A diet that is high in sodium can cause some problems with your COPD. For one, sodium is linked to a couple of different things that can cause your symptoms to flare-up; fluid retention and shortness of breath. When your body retains fluids you begin to feel full and bloated which can make it harder for you to breathe and it can make it extremely uncomfortable for you to move around. And any time something is linked to causing shortness of breath, it’s a no brainer to avoid it when you suffer from COPD.
Reducing the amount of sodium you consume can be tricky because some of your favorite foods might be high in sodium or you may not be aware of how much sodium there is in a certain food. Here is a list of foods that are high in sodium that you should be regulated:
- Regular Canned Vegetables
- Frozen Meals/T.V. Dinners
- Processed Cheeses
- Soy Sauce
- Deli Meats
- Hot Dogs
- Salted Snacks (chips, pretzels, nuts)
- Food Preserved in Brine (pickles, olives, sauerkraut)
- Table Salt
It’s extremely important that you read the nutrition labels on everything you eat. As a rule of thumb, unless your doctor has requested you reduce the amount of sodium in your diet, you will want to avoid meals or snacks if they have 300mg of sodium or more per serving.
Remember to consult your doctor or nutritionist before you make any drastic changes to your diet in regard to sodium intake.
Deep Fried Food
Deep fried foods aren’t good for anyone. However, when you suffer from COPD, fried foods should be eliminated from your diet completely. Fried foods can cause discomfort with your COPD because they are known to cause bloating and gas. Bloating creates pressure that pushes up against your diaphragm which makes it difficult and uncomfortable to breathe. Deep fried foods are also really bad for your heart, so it’s an added plus to eliminate these foods from your diet.
Cruciferous vegetables are a double-edged sword with COPD. On one side you want to get your recommended daily fiber and vegetable servings. On the other side cruciferous vegetables are known to cause gas and bloating. While these vegetables are a source of protein and a great way to get your daily servings of vegetables, you will want to make sure you pay attention to how they affect you when you eat them. If they cause serious bloating and gas and make it harder for you to breathe, start limiting yourself to find a happy medium. If it seems like you cannot eat these vegetables without problems, cut them out of your diet completely and find different alternatives to replace their nutrition value. Here is a list of some cruciferous vegetables:
- Brussel Sprouts
- Collard Greens
- Bok Choy
Carbonated and Caffeinated Beverages
When focusing on a healthy diet, it’s easy to overlook how certain drinks can negatively affect your COPD. Drinks like soda, coffee, and energy drinks should be avoided as much as possible. Although drinking these beverages might not lead to an exacerbation, they can cause discomfort, dehydration, and an energy crash.
Carbonated beverages are known to cause bloating which can put more pressure on your diaphragm, they can make it uncomfortable and harder for you to breathe. Along with bloating, energy drinks and soda can dehydrate you and cause you to have an energy crash later in the day. This isn’t to say you can’t enjoy a soda every now and then, but it is best to limit yourself to ensure you stay comfortable and hydrated.
Caffeinated beverages should also be limited in your diet for a few different reasons. For starters, caffeine may react with some of your medications in a negative way. Always make sure you consult your doctor to find out if it’s okay to mix caffeine with your meds. Along with reacting to your meds, caffeine may cause you to feel anxious or nervous if you drink too much. Although that doesn’t sound very harmful, feeling anxious or nervous when you have COPD may lead to you feeling short of breath.
Caffeine also has the well-known crash effect. It might give you a boost of energy right off the bat, but within a few hours you will experience a crash and feel fatigued. If you are one of those people that absolutely has to have coffee in the morning, make the switch to decaf to eliminate the mid-day crash and nervous jitters.
There are several different ways alcohol negatively affects your COPD, so avoiding alcohol with COPD should be a priority. As a depressant, alcohol slows down your respiratory system and decreases your lung function. It also makes it harder to clear excess mucus out of your lungs. Add all three of those elements together and it’s a recipe for disaster for COPD patients.
Although more research is needed to fully understand how alcohol effects the lungs, it’s a known fact that alcohol lowers your glutathione levels. Glutathione is an antioxidant that helps protect your lung cells from free radicals and prevent cellular damage. When your glutathione levels drop it can worsen your COPD symptoms and possibly lead to an exacerbation.
Mixing alcohol with medications is a big mistake. Whether the alcohol has a negative reaction with your medication or it makes your medication ineffective, the results can be devastating. If the alcohol renders your medication as ineffective, you essentially missed taking that dose of meds and won’t receive the benefits. On the flip side, if the alcohol has a negative reaction with your medications, it could lead to further complications or even death.
Foods That Cause Heartburn/Acid Reflux
When it comes to foods that cause heartburn and acid reflux everyone is different. Something that may cause heartburn for one person may not affect you at all. Keep that in mind as you read this section.
First off, suffering from COPD puts you at a higher risk of developing acid reflux. That’s why it is important to pay attention to certain foods that might give you acid reflux or heartburn (a side effect of acid reflux). The reason why you want to avoid foods that cause acid reflux is because it can cause your COPD symptoms to worsen. Here is a list of foods that may cause you to experience acid reflux:
- Citrus Fruits (oranges, grapefruits, lemons)
- Acidic Juices
- Spicy Food
- Anything You Already Know That Gives You Heartburn
You don’t have to cut these foods out of your diet completely, but it’s recommended that you limit your intake to prevent acid reflux and heartburn.
To help you get a head start on your diet, we have created a healthy summertime treats cookbook. Just click the image below to download your cookbook.
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11. Vitamin D
Vitamin D has numerous benefits and it plays a crucial role in your overall health. It is known to strengthen bones, protect your body from bacterial and viral infections. Vitamin D improves mental sharpness and is known to lower your blood pressure. However, what you may not know is that vitamin D may have the ability to help you manage your COPD. Although more research is needed to be conclusive there have been multiple studies in the United States that show vitamin D can help prevent and protect you from COPD exacerbations.
How can a vitamin help prevent COPD exacerbations? One way vitamin D works is by protecting your body from bacterial and viral infections. Both bacterial and viral infections are known to cause COPD symptoms to worsen and can potentially cause you to experience an exacerbation. If you don’t get enough vitamin D you are leaving your body unprotected from infections and raise your risk of experiencing an exacerbation. Another study which was published in the Lancet found that supplemental doses of vitamin D3 prevented moderate to severe COPD exacerbations in patients with vitamin D deficiency.
While the only way to know if you suffer from vitamin D deficiency is to get tested by your doctor, here are some symptoms you may experience if you aren’t getting enough vitamin D:
- Bone Pain
- Muscle Weakness
- Cognitive Impairment
- You aren’t as happy as normal or have the blues
Although these symptoms are vague, it's important to know the signs of vitamin D deficiency. If you think you might suffer from vitamin D deficiency contact your doctor immediately to get tested. Getting enough vitamin D is going to benefit your overall health and your COPD.
If you go get tested and you do have a vitamin D deficiency your doctor will help you determine the best course of action. There are a number of different ways to get more vitamin D from supplemental vitamins, to certain foods, and of course sunlight. Here is a list of ways you can get more vitamin D:
- Ultraviolet Lamps/Bulbs
- Fatty Fish (Omega 3 Fatty Acids)
- Fortified Orange Juice
- Fortified Milk
- Fortified Cereal
- Egg Yolks
- Cod Liver Oil
As always, consult your doctor before blindly adding more vitamin D to your diet. He/she will recommend a specific amount of vitamin D to relieve your deficiency.Click Here to Go Back To The Top
12. Regular Exercise for the Win
Exercising for COPD might seem counterproductive, especially when you find yourself out of breath after a simple task. However, the benefits you can reap from regular exercise are undeniable and unmatched. From improving your overall health, to protecting you from exacerbations, exercising with COPD needs to be a part of your daily routine as long as it is permitted by your doctor.
When exercising for COPD it’s important to incorporate strength, cardiovascular, stretching, and breathing exercises into your routine. By incorporating all exercise types into your routine you are ensuring that you are getting a well-rounded workout and you are going to reap the most benefits. Having 4 separate exercise categories to incorporate into your routine may seem intimidating, but each exercise type serves a great purpose. We will be going over each exercise category, giving you examples of exercises in each category, and show you how they will benefit you.
Breathing exercises are some of the most important exercises for COPD. Shortness of breath, anxiety, and stress are all common symptoms of COPD and can lead to an exacerbation if not treated properly. Combine the feeling of breathlessness and throw in anxiety or stress and it’s a recipe for disaster. By regularly practicing these breathing exercises and using them when you are feeling short of breath, you can improve your quality of life and your COPD symptoms.
You may have already learned about these breathing exercises in pulmonary rehab, which is great, but it doesn’t hurt to get a little review to refresh your memory.
Pursed Lip Breathing
Pursed lip breathing is a proven technique that can help you regain your breath without your body having to work as hard. The damage to your lungs and airways caused by COPD can make it harder for you to expel all of the air from your lungs. If you don’t successfully get all of the air out of your lungs, the remaining air gets trapped which causes you to feel short of breath. The pursed lip breathing technique will cause you to use the correct breathing muscles to ensure you get as much air out of your lungs as possible. Here are step-by-step instructions on how to perform the pursed lip breathing technique:
- Inhale through your nose for two seconds (act like you’re smelling something)
- Pucker your lips like you are about to suck on a straw or blow out a candle
- Exhale slowly through your pursed lips, for at least 4 seconds or double the time you inhaled
This technique is perfect for the times when your shortness of breath seems like it won’t go away and it’s the ideal technique to use when you exercise. It’s important to get the timing and the technique down to ensure you are getting as much air out of your lungs as possible. If you need to, count in your head as you inhale and exhale to get as close to the recommended times as possible. You might be wondering, “How is pursed-lip breathing is so effective?” Here is a brief overview of how the pursed-lip breathing technique works:
- Slows down your breathing rate
- Keeps your airways open longer allowing you get rid of older, stale, and trapped air
- Increases the amount of time you can perform an activity or exercise
- Improves the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body
- Makes it less work to breathe
Compared to pursed-lip breathing, diaphragmatic breathing is more difficult to do without the help of a health professional. Before trying this on your own speak with your doctor or pulmonary rehab team to get properly trained.
The diaphragm is the primary muscle of breathing and it’s supposed to do most of the work. However, when you have COPD your diaphragm doesn’t work as well which leads to the muscles in your back, neck, and shoulders being used to help move air in and out of your lungs. The unfortunate part of this is that your back, neck, and shoulder muscles do very little to help move your air.
This is where diaphragmatic breathing can come into play.
The diaphragmatic breathing exercise essentially strengthens and re-trains your diaphragm to help expel as much air from your lungs as possible when you exhale. As you continue to practice this exercise your diaphragm will continue to regain strength and in turn help you breathe better. Here are the step-by-step instructions for diaphragmatic breathing:
- Sit back and relax or lay down flat on your back
- Place one hand on your chest
- Place your other hand on your stomach
- Inhale through your nose for approximately two seconds
- As you inhale you stomach should move outward farther than your chest
- Use pursed-lips as you exhale and gently press on your stomach
A cardiovascular exercise is any exercise that involves working large muscle groups in a rhythmic and consistent way that raises your heart rate. Cardiovascular exercises, AKA aerobic exercises, work wonders when you are trying to improve your COPD symptoms and prevent exacerbations by strengthening your lungs, improving your blood circulation, and reducing your stress, anxiety, and depression.
Out of the four different exercise categories, cardiovascular exercises are typically more intimidating when you have COPD which is understandable. However, once you get past the intimidation factor you will realize the great benefits these exercises have to offer. Here is a list of benefits you can see from doing regular cardio exercises:
- Strengthens your lungs
- Strengthens your heart
- Improves blood circulation
- Helps your body use oxygen more efficiently
- Improves your endurance
- Helps fight stress, anxiety, and depression
- Helps you sleep better
One really nice thing about cardiovascular exercises is that you can do them virtually anywhere. This is extremely beneficial for exercising with COPD because there are a number of different variables, like weather, that may prevent you from being able to do your normal workout. Even when the weather is too bad for you to go outside, you can still get your cardio workout finished at home. The list of cardiovascular exercises includes:
- Water Aerobics
- Jumping Rope
- Biking (indoor and stationary)
- Cross-Country Skiing
As you can see, there are some strenuous activities on that list, but you don’t just start there and hope for the best. It takes time to build up your endurance, strength, and confidence before you can tackle one of the harder challenges. If you don’t think some of those exercises are feasible, check out Russell Winwood. He is a COPD athlete who competes in marathons and other competitions around the country with stage 4 COPD.
When you first start with cardio exercises you will want to begin with walking as it is the least strenuous exercise. To gauge where you are at physically, walk as far as you can until you become short of breath. Once you become short of breath, stop to take a break and regain your breath. Then turn back and return home. As you continue to repeat this process you will build up your endurance and eventually will need to limit yourself based on time. As a rule of thumb, your workouts should be between 20 and 30 minutes as you don’t want to overexert yourself.
Remember to consult your doctor before adding cardiovascular exercises to your daily routine. He/she may have some specific recommendations or restrictions for you to follow as you build up your strength and endurance.
Strength Based Exercise
The saying goes “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” This is especially true when you suffer from COPD, if you don’t put your muscles to work your body deconditions and loses muscle mass. Allowing your body to decondition and lose muscle mass will cause you to feel short of breath more often than you used to. It will cause you to have less endurance and energy for the day, which makes it harder to complete your daily routines. This is where strength based exercise comes into the picture.
If your upper body begins to decondition and lose muscle mass you will have a harder time breathing and completing daily tasks. The feeling of breathlessness comes from air being trapped in your lungs no matter how hard you try and exhale. The muscles around your lungs help expel as much air from your lungs as possible when you exhale. As those muscles decondition your lungs will have a hard time getting all of the excess air out. The rest of your upper body muscles are responsible for helping you carry out daily tasks and routines, but their performance will suffer the longer they remain inactive. Your muscles will tire out much quicker which may cause you to become fatigued much earlier in the day than usual.
On the flip side, if you focus on strengthening your upper body you will reduce the feeling of breathlessness and you will have more endurance and energy to get you through the day. Here is a list of some upper body strength exercises that are linked to instructional videos on how to perform each exercise from Eldergym:
Click on each exercise to see a proper example of how the exercise is done.
Before you add these workouts to your routine, speak with your doctor to ensure you are healthy enough to do them. It’s important to remember when you are using weights for training to use light weight dumbbells. Using light weight for strengthening your muscles can be just as effective as using heavy weights.
Just like your upper body, if you let your lower body decondition and lose muscle mass you will have noticeably less endurance and you will feel fatigue set in earlier in the day. As your lower body loses muscle mass and deconditions you will also notice your mobility start to decrease. If this vicious cycle were to continue, it would be detrimental to your overall health and cause your COPD symptoms to worsen.
By focusing on strengthening your lower body, you will not only combat the issues stated above, but you will soon see improvements in those areas. You will have more endurance throughout the day, you will have more mobility, and you will have seemingly more energy. As you remain active you will reap the benefits of improved circulation and oxygen usage, less time spent feeling breathless, and improved mental morale.
Although a lot of your cardio workouts can double as lower body strength workouts you will still want to make sure you incorporate some of these lower body workouts into your routine along with regular cardio workouts. Here is a list of some lower body strength exercises linked to instructional videos from Eldergym on how to perform each exercise:
Remember to speak with your doctor before adding a workout regimen to your daily routine. Always start off easy and work your way up in difficulty. The key is to not overexert yourself.
Stretching is an important part of exercising that you need to incorporate into your workouts. It is the slow process of loosening and lengthening your muscles that is normally done before and after a workout. It is a proven method to help prevent injuries, soreness, and stiffness during and after your workout. Stretching not only improves your flexibility, but also your range of motion.
Before each workout it’s important that you stretch your muscles to improve blood circulation, loosen your muscles, and help prevent muscle strains and other injuries, especially the muscle group you are working out. If you are doing an upper body workout, it’s imperative that you focus on stretching your upper body muscles. If you are doing a lower body workout, you will focus on stretching your lower body muscles. However, you will still want to get a full body stretch in to ensure you are fully warmed up. Stretching after you work out is just as important as stretching before you work out. Stretching post workout will reduce muscle fatigue, reduce the feeling of soreness, and help prevent future injuries. Here is a list of some of the best stretches with linked videos from Eldergym:
Upper Body Stretches
Lower Body Stretches
Yoga is a popular exercise that has recently been getting a lot of praise in the COPD community and for good reason. It is a low impact exercise that can be adjusted to any skill level and all the poses can be modified to your abilities. There have also been some different studies that have linked yoga to improved quality of life and improved lung function in COPD patients. In one study, 29 people with COPD followed a consistent 12 week yoga schedule and saw significant improvements in their lung function, quality of life, breathing ability, and inflammation in their lungs. Although the studies are recent and need more research to conclude the findings, the studies done on yoga and COPD are promising.
Through a series of poses, yoga uses strength, flexibility, and breathing to give you a meditative workout that benefits your mind and your body. The enhanced breathing techniques used in yoga can help you alleviate your feeling of breathlessness and improve your breathing ability. The meditation and relaxation techniques used can reduce your stress, anxiety and depression; all of which are commonly linked to COPD. Yoga will also strengthen your muscles across the board which will improve your breathing ability, your endurance, and your energy levels over time.
There are a few different ways you can practice yoga. You can do it at home with a DVD video or an online video, you can join a class at your local gym or rec center, and you can go to a yoga studio. No matter which method you choose, make sure you start light and work your way up in difficulty. You don’t want to overdo it. If you think yoga would be beneficial for you, speak with your doctor and look into enrolling in some classes to help you get started. It’s always easier to learn if you have hands on help.Click Here to Go Back To The Top
13. Get More Sleep
Adults are recommended to get anywhere between 6 and 8 hours of sleep every night. Getting enough sleep is essential to your overall health. When you suffer from COPD getting enough sleep is even more important. Sleep allows your body to repair itself, it’s good for your heart, your mood, and it helps you maintain a healthy weight. If you don’t get enough sleep with COPD it can cause your symptoms to worsen and weaken your immune system which can cause you to have an exacerbation.
It can be extremely difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep with COPD. There are many different reasons you might not be able to get quality sleep at night ranging from your sleep position to sleep apnea. Here is a list of the top reasons why you might have a hard time sleeping:
The type of medication and specified dosage might be interfering with your sleep schedule. If you are experiencing a difficult time falling asleep or staying asleep check your medications side effects to see if something you are taking is the reason for your problems. If you find something in your medications that might be causing this, DO NOT stop taking the medication. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to see if there is an alternative medication or if you can change your dosage to alleviate your sleep problems.
Sleep PositionMany COPD patients prop themselves up or sit up to sleep because breathing becomes more difficult when they lie down. However, sitting up or propping yourself up can make it difficult to stay asleep for a full 6 to 8 hours. If you find it uncomfortable and harder to breathe when you lie down to fall asleep, talk with your doctor about getting prescribed nighttime oxygen.
Breathing ChangesWhen you fall asleep your breathing rate slows down and your respiratory system becomes less responsive. This isn’t normally a problem for healthy people, but when you suffer from COPD it can cause disruptions in your sleep cycle. If you notice yourself waking up in the middle of the night feeling short of breath talk to your doctor about getting prescribed nighttime oxygen and getting tested for sleep apnea.
Acid reflux is extremely common among COPD patients and it can cause some serious problems while you are trying to fall asleep and stay asleep. Acid reflux can cause heartburn, bloating, and stomach discomfort all of which can worsen your COPD symptoms and make it harder to breathe. If you suffer from acid reflux, speak with your doctor about treatment options that will not interfere with your medications.
Anxiety, stress, and depression are all commonly linked to COPD for several different reasons. They can all cause you to have issues falling asleep and staying asleep by causing your mind wander aimlessly throughout the night. You can naturally fight anxiety, stress, and depression by having a healthy diet and exercising more and you can also speak with your doctor about getting a prescription to alleviate the symptoms.
An estimated 10% to 15% of COPD patients suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder that occurs when your breathing is disrupted when you’re sleeping. The symptoms of sleep apnea include; loud snoring, frequent awakenings at night, daytime sleepiness, and morning headaches. If you experience these symptoms and have a hard time sleeping, contact your doctor to get tested for sleep apnea.
Despite these common reasons why you might have a hard time sleeping and staying asleep, there are several different ways you can combat them. Here are some tips that don’t require talking to your doctor:
- Your bed should be used for one of two actions; sleep or sex. Try not to watch TV, read, or simply lie awake in your bed because it will condition your mind to associate those activities with your bed and make it harder for you to fall asleep.
- If you cannot fall asleep within 20 minutes of lying down, get up out of your bed and do something calming and relaxing that will help you become sleepy and try again.
- Have a regular sleep schedule so you are waking up and falling asleep around the same time each day. This will help condition your mind and your body to know when it is time to go to sleep.
- If you drink caffeinated beverages, do not consume any caffeine within 5 hours of when you want to fall asleep.
- Try not to nap during the day to ensure you will be tired when it is time to go to sleep. If you must nap, set an alarm and keep your nap short.
- Get regular exercise to help tire your body and mind out before you go to sleep. However, avoid working out within 2 hours of when you want to go to sleep as this will make it harder to fall asleep.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and is at a temperature you find comfortable. Falling asleep when you are cold or hot can be extremely difficult, not to mention noise and light can keep you up all night.
- Don’t go to bed feeling hungry. Whether you finished eating dinner three hours ago or just recently, if you are still hungry grab a small protein filled snack to curb your hunger. Avoid sugary snacks and snacks that are high in carbohydrates as these food types will jump start your metabolism and keep you up longer.
If you still have a hard time sleeping after following these tips, get in touch with your doctor and see what options you have to take. Whatever you do, don’t just go out and buy over-the-counter sleep aids. Many over-the-counter sleep aids will slow your respiratory system down which is extremely dangerous when you suffer from COPD. Sleep aids can also have a negative affect when combined with some of your other COPD meds.
Time to Take Action
You just read 13 strategies to help prevent and manage COPD exacerbations…
Now it’s time for you to work these strategies into your daily routine.
Your first step is to pick a few of these strategies that seem manageable and make them a part of your daily routine. As you start to become more comfortable with these additions to your routine, pick a few more and start to work them in.
You will eventually get to a point where you have incorporated all of these strategies into your daily routine and you will have significantly reduced your chances of experiencing an exacerbation and you will be able to manage them much more effectively.
If you want to keep this post for future reference click the picture below to download a free copy of 13 Simple Strategies You Can Use Today to Help You Prevent and Manage COPD Exacerbations:
Related Blog Posts:
1. Breath Rate or Breath Control: Which is More Important?
Last week, we talked about a powerful evolutionary advantage: Rather than evolving to breathe slowly, we evolved the ability to control our breathing.
We know slow, controlled breathing is beneficial, but what about just the controlled aspect itself?
A study published in 2017 examined this by having participants perform controlled breathing at 12 breaths per minute. This rate is on the low end of average for spontaneous breathing.
They found that this practice reduced sympathetic activity. There was something about the act of consciously controlling the breath that helped promote autonomic balance, despite the rather ordinary rate.
Slow breathing provides a host of additional benefits. But let us not forget the power of simply controlling your body’s most important function: breathing.
2. While We’re on the Subject: Slow Breathing Restores Balance in COPD
People with COPD have similar complications to diabetics, such as increased sympathetic tone and reduced baroreflex sensitivity (BRS).
A study published in 2008 found that slow breathing at 6 breaths per minute for 4 minutes significantly reduced sympathetic activity and increased BRS in COPD patients. That is, it helped restore cardio-autonomic balance.
Their words are always better than mine:
“In summary, patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease showed sympathetic excitation and depression of the baroreflex. Slow breathing counteracted these changes.” - Raupach et al.
3. Another Non-Breathing Tip: I Take This Every Morning
To build off of my #1 non-breathing tip (2-4 hours between dinner and bedtime), here’s another one I use every day: baking soda.
Baking soda has been shown to improve performance and even help with autoimmune conditions. From a breathing perspective, it has also been shown to increase breath-hold time (something I have anecdotally experienced).
Here’s how I take it every morning:
2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
Mix and "enjoy"
It sounds disgusting, but it’s actually not too bad. Apple cider vinegar might also help control blood sugars, so that’s an added bonus for us diabetics.
4. A Race for the Future
"Looking at the evidence, it’s hard not to conclude that our entire physiology was engineered to reward us for moving." - Kelly McGonigal, The Joy of Movement
I love Physiology First, its mission, and the people behind it. On August 15, they are holding a run/walk to collectively cover 1,000 miles. You can join virtually anywhere (my wife and I will be joining from here on the Space Coast of Florida).
It’s been a while since my 100-mile ruck, so this is a great reason to get out and move for a good cause. Every mile helps, and there is no minimum. I hope to "e-see" you there!
A RACE FOR THE FUTURE
(We’re signing up for the "1000 Miler")
If you have COPD, then you know that it can be dangerous when your symptoms suddenly get worse. That's why preventing flare-ups and exacerbations is one of the main goals of treatment for people with COPD.
A COPD exacerbation (also known as an acute exacerbation) happens when you get sick or your lungs get especially inflamed, making your symptoms much worse for an extended period of time. Even though they go away eventually, exacerbations can cause serious health complications and permanent damage to your lungs.
When you have COPD, your quality of life depends greatly on how much you prioritize your health and avoid habits and environments that put your lungs at risk. That means doing everything you can to keep your body strong and prevent acute exacerbations.
In this article we're going to help you do just that by explaining a variety of ways you can reduce your risk of experiencing a COPD exacerbation. We'll help you understand why exacerbations happen, how to recognize the warning signs.
Most importantly, we'll show you a variety of practical methods and techniques you can start using today to avoid flare-ups and exacerbations in the future. So if you're ready to improve your quality of life and take charge of your health today, continue reading for 15 practical ways you can reduce your risk for acute COPD exacerbations.
What is a COPD Exacerbation?
Most COPD patients are able to keep their symptoms under control most of the time, but flare-ups and exacerbations are always a threat. The frequency of exacerbations varies from patient to patient and depends on a variety of risk factors, including age, disease severity, and physical activity level.
On average, COPD patients experience at least one or two exacerbations every year. This does not include minor flare-ups, which might happen much more frequently in response to mild irritants.
Flare-ups Versus Exacerbations
A COPD flare-up is a temporary increase in symptoms that can happen when you breathe in respiratory irritants like dust, smoke, or dry air. Flare-ups are generally mild, short-lived, and treatable at home.
Exacerbations, on the other hand, last longer and are more serious than mild flare-ups. They usually happen as a result of a respiratory illness or infection that causes inflammation, excess mucus, and reduced lung function.
Exacerbations often require a trip to the doctor, although they can sometimes be treated at home. It's important to talk to your doctor about what you should do in the case of an exacerbation and how long you should wait to call your doctor when your symptoms start to get worse.
In general, it's safest to talk your doctor as early as possible if you think you might be experiencing an exacerbation. That's why it's very important to recognize the early symptoms and warning signs of an oncoming acute exacerbation.
Unlike flare-ups, exacerbations can have extended or even permanent effects. Sometimes, even once an exacerbation passes, the COPD symptoms don't improve all the way. Some patient's conditions don't ever get back to the baseline that they were at before the exacerbation, and they have to cope with a minor, yet permanent, increase in symptoms from that point on.
Exacerbations can be life-threatening at any stage of the disease, but they are particularly dangerous for people with advanced COPD. Flare-ups are common in all COPD patients, although sensitivity to respiratory irritants and the severity of the flare-up can range significantly depending on the patient's physical condition and disease stage.
How to Recognize an Exacerbation
Exacerbations are serious business, and recognizing the early symptoms could save your life. An exacerbation can be debilitating, life-threatening, and is are not something you should ever take lightly. Most researchers agree that preventing exacerbations is one of the most important things you can do to live longer and slow down the progression of COPD.
Some exacerbations are mild, but some are serious and require early and immediate treatment to prevent serious complications. Severe exacerbations can cause you to be hospitalized or even end in death.
That's why it's vital to pay attention to how you feel and be able to recognize the early warning signs of an acute exacerbation. You should always be monitoring your symptoms and looking for signs that indicate they're getting worse. Often, the only early warning sign of an exacerbation is a worsening of the symptoms you already have.
If your worsened symptoms don't start to get better soon, you should talk to your doctor right away and begin any additional medication or therapies that your doctor recommends. The earlier you begin treating an acute COPD exacerbation, the better your chances of avoiding life-threatening symptoms and hospitalization.
If you ignore worsened symptoms, they're likely to continue getting worse. The longer you wait to seek help, the more you'll be at risk for serious complications and the less likely you'll be to make a full recovery.
Here are some of the early warning signs of a COPD exacerbation:
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- More difficulty catching your breath than usual
- More coughing or wheezing than usual
- A change in mucus color (yellow, green, or blood-tinged in color)
- Increased mucus in your lungs and airways
- Feeling unusually sleepy or fatigued
- Difficulty sleeping because your symptoms keep you up
- Having less energy than usual to do normal daily activities
- Breathlessness and fatigue at rest or after extremely light activities
If you think you're experiencing the early symptoms of an exacerbation, follow your COPD treatment plan and talk to your doctor as soon as possible. If your symptoms get significantly worse or you can't catch your breath, seek emergency medical care immediately.
There are certain symptoms that are a sign of serious oxygen deprivation and require immediate medical care. If you experience confusion, a severe headache, difficulty catching your breath at rest, a bluish tint to your skin, or have a sudden difficulty walking short distances, you should seek emergency medical attention immediately.
What Happens When You Have an Exacerbation?
When you have an exacerbation you'll experience increased symptoms and increased mucus production that makes it more difficult than usual to breathe. This happens because of inflammation that reduces your lung function and causes inflammation in your lungs and airways.
Mild exacerbations can sometimes be treated at home, although you should always talk to your doctor about when you should call him first. Your doctor might recommend a variety of medications to use in the short term to manage your symptoms until the exacerbation passes.
Here are some common medications used to treat exacerbations at home:
- Bronchodilator Inhalers: Your doctor might recommend that you use your bronchodilator medication more often or prescribe you a different inhaled medication than you usually use. This will help open up your airways and make it easier to breathe.
- Corticosteroid Medications: Inhaled or oral corticosteroids are common treatments for COPD exacerbations. They help reduce inflammation in your lungs, reduce swelling, and open up narrowed airways.
- Antibiotics: If a bacterial infection is the cause behind your exacerbation, your doctor might prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat it.
However, if an exacerbation gets worse, you might need to go see your doctor or be hospitalized if it gets severe. You should seek emergency medical care if you experience unusually severe symptoms, can't catch your breath, or show signs of low blood oxygen (like confusion, a severe headache, a bluish color to your skin, or extreme fatigue).
If admitted to a hospital, you will receive more intensive treatment that may include bronchodilators, systemic corticosteroids, supplemental oxygen, and breathing support. If your lungs aren't working well enough on their own, you may have to use a ventilator or a positive expiratory pressure (PEP) device to keep your airways open.
Without prompt medical treatment (and even with it), a serious exacerbation can be life-threatening. That's why preventing exacerbations is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy and live longer with COPD.
What Causes COPD Exacerbations?
There are many different COPD triggers, including dust, pollen, and cold air, that can cause your symptoms to get worse. However, these irritants usually only cause minor flare-ups, not full-blown exacerbations.
However, exposure to COPD triggers like respiratory irritants can significantly raise The majority of the time, exacerbations are caused by a respiratory illnesses or infection, not respiratory irritation alone.your risk of subsequent exacerbations.
According to research, respiratory illnesses cause 70 to 80 percent of exacerbations experienced by people with COPD. That's why it's so important to do whatever you can to avoid getting sick, including getting vaccinations, practicing good hygiene, and living a healthy lifestyle.
Here is a list of some of the most common causes of COPD exacerbations:
- The flu
- Seasonal allergens
- Air pollution
Unfortunately, in up to one-third of cases doctors are unable to determine the cause of a COPD exacerbation. It's important to make choices that limit your risk of having an exacerbation, but there's no way to reduce that risk to zero.
There are certain risk factors for exacerbations that you have little or no control over, like your age and the severity of your disease. Here are some common factors that put you a greater risk for exacerbations if you have COPD:
- A history of frequent exacerbations
- If you've had an exacerbation within the past year
- If you have more severe COPD symptoms (e.g. a severe daily cough or severe breathlessness every day)
- You have severely reduced lung function
- Low BMI
- Lack of exercise
- Old age
Taking care to avoid exacerbations is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy, stay strong, and maintain your quality of life while living with COPD.. If you are ready to learn what you can do to protect your lungs and maintain your quality of life, continue reading to learn about fifteen different ways to avoid COPD flare-ups and exacerbations.
How to Prevent a COPD Exacerbation
Now that you understand the risk factors for exacerbations, why exacerbations happen, and how to recognize the early warning signs, it's time to learn how to prevent them. Even though you can't always avoid exacerbations, there are many different things you can do in your daily life that reduce your risk.
In these next sections, we're going to show you how you can avoid exacerbations by incorporating simple habits and techniques into your everyday life. We'll go in-depth into a variety of activities, useful techniques, and special precautions you can take to reduce your risk.
Don't put it off any longer; continue reading to learn about a variety of practical steps you can take today to reduce your risk of experiencing a COPD exacerbation.
Avoid Weather and Temperature Extremes
Hospitalizations for COPD-related exacerbations and complications go up significantly in extreme temperatures and weather. That's why you have to be particularly careful to protect yourself during the summer and winter months.
In general, it's a good idea to avoid going outdoors whenever it is extremely hot or cold outside. Both hot and warm air are hard on your lungs, make it difficult to breathe, and can make you more prone to flare-ups and exacerbations.
Avoiding Hot Weather
For some people with COPD, the summer heat brings relief and decreases their symptoms. But for those who are not so lucky, the hot air can make a variety of COPD symptoms worse.
When you spend time in the heat, it raises your body temperature, which makes your body have to work harder to cool you down. This is taxing on your lungs, which already need extra energy to function, and can make it much more difficult to breathe.
You are also more likely to get dehydrated and feel fatigued when you are out in the hot, humid air. Hot weather also tends to correspond with higher ozone pollution levels, which can irritate your lungs and make you even more prone to flare-ups and exacerbations.
Here are some tips for staying healthy and avoiding exacerbations in hot weather:
- Always stay indoors when it is very hot or the air quality is low. Plan exercise and outdoor activities for milder days.
- Plan activities during the early morning or early evening, when the temperatures are cooler. The hottest temperatures tend to occur between 11 am and 3 pm every day.
- Drink lots of water during the summer, especially when you exercise or spend time outdoors. Always bring a bottle of water with you when you go out.
- Keep your home cool and air-conditioned. If you don't have air conditioning, go to a public place that does have AC, like the library or mall, on very hot days.
- If you feel overheated, try taking a cool bath or shower to cool down.
- Use a fan in your bedroom at night or any other rooms that tend to get hot and stuffy. You can also get a hand-held, battery-powered fan to bring with you whenever you go outdoors in the heat.
- Drink a sports drink or salty food after sweating or spending time in the heat to replenish lost electrolytes.
- If you are sensitive to allergens, always check your local pollen and allergen forecast. You can check it online at pollen.com.
- Bring your inhaler and any quick-relief medications with you whenever you go out in case your symptoms flare up.
Avoiding Cold Weather
Cold weather can also make COPD worse and put you at a much greater risk for exacerbations. In fact, one study showed that cold weather caused a significant increase in hospital admissions, with up to a 20% increase in hospitalizations for people with COPD. The main factors increasing the risk were lower temperatures, windchill, cold weather that lasted for more than a week.
Winter weather causes an increase in symptoms in part because cold air is denser, drier, and more difficult to breathe. Cold, dry air dries out your airways and nasal passages, causing inflammation that worsens symptoms and increases mucus production.
Together, these effects make it more difficult to breathe and increase your risk of getting an illness or infection. The effects are the worst at temperatures below freezing, but COPD hospitalizations increase at temperatures as high as 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
That's why it's so important to stay indoors and take extra precautions during the winter months. Here are some tips for avoiding cold weather and staying healthy during the winter:
- Stay indoors on cold days and when the air quality is low. Don't exercise or do other physical activities outdoors; instead plan them for warmer days or save them for a warmer season.
- Always dress warm for cold weather and use layers so you can add or remove them if your comfort level changes.
- Always breathe through your nose, not your mouth. This allows the air to warm up and pick up moisture as it travels through your airways to your lungs.
- Cover your mouth with a scarf or cold weather mask anytime you have to be out in the cold air. This traps the heat and moisture from your breath in order to warm and humidify the air you breathe.
- If you use supplemental oxygen, cover your oxygen tank and tubing when you go outdoors. You can string your tubing underneath your jacket or coat to keep it warm.
Humidity is yet another weather condition that can have a significant effect on people with COPD. Most people do best when the humidity is around 40 percent, and a humidity range between 30 and 50 percent is recommended for people with respiratory conditions and diseases.
Both too little and too much humidity makes it difficult to breathe and can make your COPD symptoms worse. Dry air is harsh and irritating to your lungs, while extra-humid air is heavy and hard to inhale.
Humidity tends to be highest in warm weather, because warm air is able to hold more moisture. The air tends to be much drier during the winter, and the dense, cold air tends to make air pollution worse as well.
But humidity isn't just about the weather; even if the humidity is ideal outdoors, the humidity inside your house can still get high. Running a shower or bath and using appliances like your dishwasher or washing machine can raise the humidity in your home if you're not careful.
Humidity effects everyone differently, so pay attention to what humidity levels make your symptoms better or worse. To reduce your chances of flare-ups and exacerbations, you should avoid spending time outdoors any time the air is especially humid, especially dry, or polluted.
Here are some general tips for dealing with dry and humid weather:
- Get a humidifier for your home and use it during the dry winter months. You can get one for your bedroom and any other space you tend to spend a lot of time in, or you can get a whole-house humidifier that hooks up to your home's main ventilation system.
- When the humidity outdoors is very high, keep your windows and doors closed to keep the moist air out of your home.
- Make sure any appliances that release moisture into the air, including your washing machine, clothes dryer, stove, and dishwasher well-ventilated.
- Whenever you take a shower or bath be sure to open a window or turn on your bathroom fan to vent extra humidity.
- Use the vent fan on your stove when cooking steamy or smoky foods.
Attend Pulmonary Rehabilitation
Getting exercise and living an active life is another one of the best things you can do to keep your body healthy, strengthen your breathing muscles, and reduce your risk of COPD exacerbations. But in order to get enough exercise, you need to know how to manage your symptoms and control your breathing while you work out.
That's why many doctors recommend that COPD patients attend pulmonary rehabilitation, a special class designed specifically to help people with respiratory diseases live healthier, happier lives. Many people begin pulmonary rehabilitation after they have difficulty exercising and managing their disease on their own.
But pulmonary rehab is about more than just exercise; it's about learning how to manage all the different aspects of your life that are affected by COPD. You'll learn how to keep your lungs healthy, how to manage your symptoms, and how to handle the stress and emotional strain of living with a chronic disease.
Classes are usually run by medical specialists or social workers who have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. Classes usually focus on these main areas:
- Exercise training classes
- Learning and practicing breathing techniques
- Diet and nutritional counseling
- Lung health and disease education
- Learning how to conserve energy for what's most important
- Mental health counseling and group support sessions
- Learning how to use oxygen and other medications to manage respiratory symptoms
Research shows that taking a pulmonary rehabilitation class increases exercise capacity and overall health in people with COPD. Multiple studies have also found that pulmonary rehab significantly reduces patients' risk of future exacerbations and hospital admissions, too.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is like a crash course on how to live the best possible life while managing your COPD. It's one of the best things you can do to jump-start your COPD treatment and learn how to integrate positive, healthy habits into your everyday life.
Find a Pulmonary Rehabilitation Class Near You
Pulmonary rehabilitation classes vary depending on where you live and what kind of help you need. Some programs are hosted as group classes at hospitals and clinics, some offer individual instruction, and some can even be done partially or fully at home.
If you have COPD, talk to your doctor about whether or not you could benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation. Your doctor can give you a referral and help you find a class in your local area that works for you.
Here are some resources to help you locate a pulmonary rehabilitation program near you:
Check Air Quality Reports
If you've never paid attention to air quality reports before, now is the time to start taking them seriously. Outdoor pollution and allergens are bad for your lungs and increase your risk for exacerbations.
Particles, bacteria, mold, and other airborne contaminates get into your lungs and airways when you breathe, causing inflammation and increased mucus production. These respiratory irritants worsen COPD symptoms, increase your risk for infection, and cause further damage to your lungs over time.
Studies have shown that even short-term exposure to air pollutants significantly increases the risk of exacerbations in people with COPD. Gaseous pollutants like ozone and airborne particles like dust and mold, in particular, carry the highest risk.
Polluted air can affect your health within minutes, hours, or days of exposure. If you have COPD, spending time outdoors in hazardous pollution could give you worsened symptoms for days.
One of the most important ways to protect your lungs is to watch your local air quality reports and know how to protect yourself when pollution and pollen levels are high.
Air Quality Reports
Typical levels of air pollution vary from city to city, but they also vary from day to day. The amount of smog you get exposed to when you go outside depends on the temperature, humidity, weather patterns, traffic, and a variety of other factors.
You should check the air quality every day before you go out and limit the amount of time you spend outside when the air quality is low. Most local weather forecasts include air quality reports, but you can also check your local air quality at airnow.gov.
Use the daily air quality forecasts to plan activities ahead of time, especially for outdoor exercise and other physical activities. If the air quality turns out to be poor, reschedule any activities that require you to spend extended time outdoors for a day when the air will be healthier to breathe.
Another thing to remember is that you should close all of your doors and windows on days when the air quality is low. This will help keep smog and other pollutants out of your home and help keep your indoor air healthy to breathe.
Here's how to read the different levels of your local air quality report:
- AQI 0-50 (green): Good, little or no risk
- AQI 51-100 (yellow): Moderate, could be unhealthy for very sensitive groups (including people with severe COPD)
- AQI 101-150 (orange): Unhealthy for sensitive groups (including people with COPD and other lung conditions)
- AQI 151-200 (red): Unhealthy for everyone, but especially sensitive groups
- AQI 201-300 (purple): Very unhealthy, could trigger serious health effects
- AQI 301-500 (maroon): Hazardous, emergency conditions (such as smoke from a nearby wildfire)
Check Pollen Reports
A large percentage of people with COPD also suffer from allergies to things like mold, pollen, and dust mites. These allergens can cause bronchial spasms and inflammation that make your COPD symptoms worse and put you at risk for an acute exacerbation.
If you have allergies, you should make sure check your local pollen report every day, especially during the spring, summer, and fall. To reduce your risk of an exacerbation, you should always avoid going outdoors on days when pollen and other allergen levels are high.
Other Tips for Avoiding Pollution and Allergens
Checking air and pollen reports are just the first step to protecting yourself from airborne irritants. To really protect your lungs, you'll need to actively avoid places where irritants are present and make an effort to reduce the amount of airborne irritants in your home.
If you are a smoker, the most important thing you can do for your health is to quit smoking altogether. If other people you live with or spend time with smoke, ask them to never smoke around you or your home.
Here are some additional tips for avoiding respiratory irritants in your daily life:
- Always make an effort to stay indoors when the air quality index or pollen levels are high. Reschedule outdoor activities on high-pollution days and try to schedule outings on days when the air quality is good.
- Always keep your inhaler and quick-relief medications with you when you go outside.
- Keep the windows and doors in your home shut tight on days when the pollution and pollen levels are high.
- Keep your home clean; dust, vacuum, and clean your floors and surfaces often to remove dust, pollen, pet dander, and other contaminates.
- Keep your pets off of your furniture and give them regular baths and brushings to keep allergens and pollutants from building up in their fur.
- Keep your windows rolled up to keep city pollution and exhaust fumes out of your car.
- Use the re-circulation option for your car's ventilation system to re-circulate the air in your cabin instead of pulling in polluted air from the road.
- Try to avoid high-traffic roads and drive when the traffic is lighter.
Avoid Common Respiratory Irritants
As we've already mentioned, respiratory irritants like allergens and smog can worsen your respiratory symptoms, damage your lungs, and significantly increase your chances of experiencing an exacerbation. That means that you should be very cautious about the air you breathe and avoid contaminated air as much as possible.
Outdoor smog, smoking, and air pollution are some of the most common sources of exposure to respiratory irritants. If you have allergies, pollen, mold, and dust mites can also inflame your respiratory system.
Here is a list of the most common respiratory irritants that you should avoid:
- Air pollution and smog
- Dust and dust mites
- Mold and mildew
- Cooking fumes
Airborne irritants like the ones on this list get into your lungs and airways when you breathe contaminated air. These irritants are more hazardous for people with COPD because they cause more damage to their already damaged lungs. They can also worsen symptoms, quicken disease progression, and makes exacerbations more likely.
The inflammation that respiratory irritants trigger causes your airways to narrow and increases mucus production that clogs your lungs and airways. This blocks airflow to your lungs which makes it even more difficult to breathe and triggers symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
In this way, exposure to airborne irritants weakens your lungs and makes you more likely to experience a COPD exacerbation. Even if the irritants themselves don't trigger an acute exacerbation, the inflammation could increase your risk for infections and further inflammation that leads to an exacerbation later on down the line.
Other Airborne Contaminates to Watch Out For
It's also important to know about some less obvious, often overlooked sources of airborne irritants that many people don't even think of. You should be familiar with every irritant and pollutant that could harm your lungs so you can avoid exposing yourself unintentionally.
Here are some oft-overlooked sources of airborne irritants and pollutants:
- Radon: This is a toxic gas that can be present in the ground around your home. You will have to hire an inspector to check for radon in and near your house to ensure that you're not being exposed.
- All Sources of Smoke: This includes incense, barbecue grills, fireplaces, bonfires, wood-burning stoves, car exhaust, kitchen mishaps, and more.
- Asbestos: Asbestos is a common material used in home insulation, wall paint, tiles, and a variety of other common home materials. If you live in an older house there is a very good chance you have asbestos in your home. If it stays in place it is not very dangerous, but if it gets disturbed and mixed into the air, it can cause serious damage to your lungs. You should always get your house checked for asbestos before doing any home remodeling or renovations.
- Construction Sites: You should avoid going near construction sites because they often produce a lot of pollution and kick up a lot of dust that can be harmful to your lungs. If you live or work near a construction site that you cannot avoid, wear a dust mask or certified N-95 particulate respirator.
Use a Respirator to Protect Your Lungs
If you are very sensitive to airborne particles like dust or mold, you might benefit from wearing a special particle mask that filters these particles out as you breathe. These masks, often called respirators, can come in handy when you clean or might be exposed to hazardous chemicals, dust, or mold.
You should look for certified, consumer-quality N-95 masks, which effectively filter out 95 percent of airborne particles like dust and mold, even particles that are too tiny to see. Make sure sure any mask you get has been certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to ensure quality. You can usually find NIOSH-certified particle masks at hardware and home improvement stores.
Talk to your doctor before getting a respirator because, for some patients with reduced lung function, wearing a particle mask makes it more difficult to breathe. This happens because it takes extra effort to pull air through the mask when you inhale. If you are wearing a respirator, remove it immediately if you notice a headache, nausea, or shortness of breath.
Reduce Indoor Air Pollution
It doesn't do much good to avoid outdoor pollutants by staying indoors if the air inside your home is full of contaminates, too. That's why it's so important to reduce the amount of pollen, mold, dust, and other pollutants that circulate in the air in your house.
Indoor pollutants come from a variety of sources, including pets, household chemicals, in-home appliances, and irritants you track in from outdoors. If you don't make an active effort to get rid of these contaminates regularly, they can build up in the air in your home and cause even further damage to your lungs.
Here are some of the most common sources of indoor air pollution:
- Mold and mildew
- Dust and dust mites
- Chemicals and fragrances (from cleaning products, perfumes, etc.)
- Fumes from washing machines, dishwashers, and stoves
Reducing the amount of respiratory irritants and pollutants inside your home is just as important as avoiding the outdoors on days when the air quality index is high. Read the following sections for a variety of ideas and practical tips for improving the air quality in your home.
Reduce Dust and Pollen
Dust, pollen, and pet dander tend to build up in the little-trafficked places in your home, such as basements, closets, corners, and shelves. When this dust gets kicked up into the air, you breathe it in, where it inflames your lungs and airways and makes your COPD symptoms worse.
This is especially true if you have allergies, and it can significantly raise your risk of experiencing a COPD exacerbation. Here are some general tips for reducing the amount of dust and allergens in your home:
- Check the air ducts in your home at least once a year. If there is visible dust build-up, mold, or you frequently experience worsened respiratory symptoms at home, you should get your air ducts professionally cleaned.
- Get high-quality, hypo-allergenic air filters for your HVAC system and replace them every few months.
- Use a duster or damp towel to clean dust off of counters, shelves, cabinets, and other horizontal surfaces.
- Always take off your shoes immediately after coming indoors to avoid tracking dust, pollen, and other grime around your house.
- Clean up and organize any cluttered areas that gather dust. Consider reducing the number of small, dust-collecting items and decorations you have or relocating them to a closet or cabinet.
- Sweep your floors and vacuum your carpet often to remove dust and other allergens.
- Clean fabrics and plush objects regularly to remove pollen, dust, and other irritating particles. That includes curtains, rugs, couches, carpets, etc.
- Keep your windows and doors closed on days when pollen levels are high to keep allergens out of your house.
- Consider getting hardwood floors or getting rid of decorations like rugs, curtains, and drapes.
- Control the humidity and moisture in your home to reduce dust mites, insects, and mold that cause respiratory symptoms.
- Get an air filter or purifier for your home.
- Wear an N-95 face mask to protect yourself from dust, pollen, pet dander, and hazardous chemicals when you clean.
Control Pollution and Fumes from Home Appliances and Products
A variety of home appliances that you use every day emit fumes that can irritate and damage your lungs. You also have to beware of scented lotions and other products that can trigger COPD symptoms.
Here are some tips and ideas for eliminating noxious fragrances and fumes from your home:
- Open your windows on mild days when the forecast says pollution and pollen levels are low. This will air out your house and exchange stale, polluted indoor air with fresher, cleaner air from outdoors.
- Make sure appliances like your dryer, dishwasher, and stove are properly vented. If you have old appliances, get them inspected to make sure they aren't leaking any pollution into your home.
- Never smoke or allow others to smoke in or around your home.
- Avoid using fireplaces or wood-burning stoves. Even if they're well ventilated they can leak smoke and particles into the air.
- Invest in a HEPA filter or other air purifying device. You can get air purifiers that work for single rooms or whole-house units that filter all the air in your house.
- Don't use lotions, shampoos, or other body products with strong fragrances. Look for unscented products whenever possible, and ask others who live in your home to do the same.
- Replace harsh chemicals and cleaners with milder, natural products instead. Continue reading to learn about how to make your own natural cleaners later in this article.
Control Moisture and Humidity
Too much humidity is bad for your lungs and encourages the growth of bacteria, dust mites, and mold. On the other hand, too little moisture in the air can make it difficult to breathe, too. Luckily, there are lots of tools and techniques you can use to keep the humidity in your home within a comfortable and healthy range.
Controlling leaks and cleaning up spills is particularly important to prevent mold and mildew growth in your house. Moisture from your shower, pipe leaks, water damage, or any other source is nearly guaranteed to grow mold if it stays damp for more than 12-24 hours.
Anytime you have a leak or flood, clean up the water immediately and carefully air out damp items, including the carpet. You should check mold-prone places like your basement, bathrooms, and ceilings regularly for any visible mold or water spots, especially if you've ever had a pipe leak or flood.
It's also important to open a window or turn on your bathroom vent whenever you take a shower or bath. The humidity that builds up from running the hot water can encourage mold growth, make it difficult to breathe, and increase the humidity in your home to uncomfortable levels.
Another common source of moisture is home appliances, including dishwashers, dryers, and stoves. You should always vent these appliances, whether directly through ventilation tubing or by opening up a window or turning on a vent.
Finally, if the air in your home is too dry or too wet, you can get a humidifier or dehumidifier, respectively, to help you better control the moisture in the air. You can get single-room devices or whole-house humidifiers that moisturize your whole home through the main ventilation system.
Here are some additional tips for controlling moisture and humidity in your home:
- Promptly wipe up any water or spills and repair leaky pipes immediately after you notice them.
- Open windows and use fans in your home strategically to pull excess humidity out of your house.
- Running your air conditioning on hot, humid days will dehumidify the air slightly.
- Take shorter showers to reduce the amount of humidity that builds up in your bathroom. Using colder water can help, too.
- Invest in a humidifier for the dry winter months and/or a dehumidifier for the hot, humid months. Ideal humidity levels for most people with COPD fall within the 40 to 50 percent humidity range.
- Check your local weather report daily to see what the humidity level will be. On particularly humid days, keep your windows and doors shut to help keep the moisture out of your home.
- If you have any moldy or water-damaged carpet or furniture, you should get rid of it or have it professionally cleaned.
- Replace and clean moisture-holding items like bath towels, hand towels, and cleaning sponges often to discourage mold growth.
- Check your shower walls, floor, and shower head for mold or mildew regularly.
Keep Your Home Squeaky Clean
In addition to the specific steps you should take to keep the air in your home clean, you'll need to keep up with other forms of household cleaning as well. Doing so will not only reduce your risk of exacerbations, but it will also help you work some extra physical activity into your daily routine.
Thoroughly cleaning all the surfaces in your house removes bacteria, viruses, and other respiratory irritants that cause exacerbations. Keeping your home free from dust, mold, and grime will also help with allergies and prevent minor symptom flare-ups.
But cleaning does come with some hazards, including exposing yourself and your lungs to dangerous household chemicals and dust as you clean. That's why it's important to take precautions and enlist help, especially for heavy cleaning tasks.
In the next sections we're going to show you some new techniques and ideas for tackling different cleaning projects in your home. We'll give you practical ideas to help you tackle everyday tasks and special projects, tips for conserving energy when you clean, and show you ways to avoid using noxious chemicals that could irritate your lungs and airways.
Use Natural Products
Many household chemical sprays and cleaning agents contain noxious chemicals that are bad for your lungs. If you use them to clean, it's very difficult to avoid breathing them in, and if you have to use a lot, the fumes can contaminate an entire room or the air in your whole house.
These irritating fumes can stick around for hours after you clean and irritate your lungs. To avoid hurting your lungs and making your symptoms worse, opt for natural, mild cleaners instead of chemical ones.
What to Use Instead of Harsh Chemicals
You can find all-natural cleaners at many retail stores, but they are often less effective and overpriced. Instead, you can make you own cleaning products at home using readily available supplies.
Many of the following DIY cleaning product “recipes” include vinegar, baking soda, and soap, which are effective cleaning agents that will not irritate or damage your lungs and airways. Some use small amounts of ammonia, which can be irritating, but is safe to use in moderation.
DIY All-purpose Cleaner
- Put ½ cup of baking soda into a large spray bottle.
- Add enough water to cover and dissolve the baking soda.
- Carefully pour 1 cup of vinegar into the spray bottle (The mixture will fizz, so make sure to add it in slowly).
- Fill up the spray bottle the rest of the way with water and let it sit for 8-12 hours, or overnight.
- Shake it lightly to mix, then let it sit until it stops fizzing.
- Now your all-purpose cleaner is ready to use!
- Bonus tip: Add an extra teaspoon of dish detergent to the mixture to give it grease-cutting properties for oily messes and spills.
DIY Window Cleaner
- This cleaning product uses ammonia, so take care when mixing or using this spray. Keep the mixture away from your face, don't breathe in the fumes, and wear a mask, respirator. Better yet, have someone else mix and/or use it for you.
- Pour one cup of vinegar into a large spray bottle.
- Add two cap-fulls (about 6-8 teaspoons) of ammonia to the bottle.
- Shake to mix, and your window cleaner is ready to go!
DIY Toilet Cleaner
- Get two full cups of baking soda and pour them right into the bowl of yo toilet.
- Use a toilet brush to thoroughly scrub the bottom and sides of the bowl.
- Flush the toilet.
- Pour in two cups of vinegar.
- Use a toilet brush to mix in the vinegar and swish it around the bowl.
- Flush again. Now you're done!
DIY Carpet Deodorizer
- Sprinkle a small amount of baking soda over spots on your carpet or upholstered furniture to absorb offensive odors.
- Let it sit for at least 12-24 hours.
- Vacuum up the baking soda, making sure to get all of it up. That's all! Your carpet or furniture should smell much more fresh and clean.
There are certain chemical cleaning products, like bleach, that there's just no replacement for. Just make sure to avoid breathing the fumes whenever you have to use noxious cleaning agents like ammonia or bleach and, if you have one, use a mask or respirator to cover your nose and mouth.
Tips for Everyday Home Maintenance
Next we'll give you a variety of practical tips for making household duties like vacuuming, dusting, and laundry more easy and efficient. Use these techniques to save time, energy, and effort when you clean.
- Wear an N-95 respirator to avoid breathing in dust and other airborne particles as you clean (this applies to any kind of cleaning, including vacuuming and cleaning surfaces and floors).
- Get a duster with a long handle to make it easier to reach tall and low places. That way you don't have to bend over often or climb onto chairs to reach all the dust-collecting nooks and crannies in your house.
- Try bringing a stool with you to sit on as you dust. Use it to sit near shelves, cabinets, and other dusty places so you don't have to stand and stoop while you clean.
- Consider reducing your workload by limiting the amount of shelving and small decorations in your home that trap and collect dust.
- Always dust before you vacuum. That way you can immediately vacuum up all the dust and other irritating particles you've knocked off of surfaces in your home.
- Take rest breaks if you tend to get tired from walking while pushing and pulling the vacuum.
- Practice good posture and don't lean or hunch while you vacuum. This will prevent you from straining your muscles and make it easier to breathe.
- Use the pursed-lips breathing technique to control your breaths.
- Sync up your movements with your breathing to avoid breathlessness while you vacuum. Breathe in as you pull the vacuum toward yourself and breathe out as you push it away.
- Always take care when emptying or disposing of your vacuum bag. Cover the opening with a damp cloth or newspaper to catch dust and other particles and prevent them from dispersing into the air.
- Use the pursed-lips breathing technique to control your breaths and make it easier to breathe.
- Stand up straight and practice good posture to prevent muscle strain and breathlessness.
- Use a broom and mop with long enough handles that you don't have to bend or stoop while using them.
- Similarly, use a long-handled dustpan to avoid bending over when sweeping up.
- Like when you vacuum, sync up your breathing with your movements to make it easier to breathe. Breathe in as you pull the mop toward you and breathe out as you push it forward.
Cleaning Surfaces and Minor Messes
- To avoid having to bend over or get on your knees, use a lightweight mop to clean up minor spots and spills.
- Get a grabber or long tongs to pick items up off of the floor or to retrieve things that get pushed underneath your bed or other furniture.
- When using a spray with chemicals or ammonia, spray the counter or other surface and walk away for a minute or two. This will give the chemicals time to settle and disperse, reducing the amount of noxious particles you might accidentally breathe in.
- Always keep the room that you're cleaning in well ventilated, especially if you are using chemicals or sprays. Open a window or turn on a fan to circulate air in enclosed rooms and spaces.
- If you can, get a front-loading washer and dryer. That way you don't have to bend and reach as much when getting things out of the machine.
- Sit on a stool to conserve energy while sorting clothes, folding clothes, or getting them out of the dryer.
- Get a rolling laundry basket to reduce the amount of lifting and carrying you have to do.
- Drop your clothes off at a laundromat. Many offer relatively affordable bulk clothes washing and folding services.
Cleaning and keeping up with housework is a great way to stay active and get some extra physical activity in your day. However, it's important not to push yourself too hard or do activities that expose you to irritants or make your symptoms worse.
If you find your daily cleaning tasks tiring, try taking it slower and spreading out your tasks throughout the day. Put on some music or headphones while you work to reduce the tedium and make cleaning more engaging and fun.
It's a good idea to get help at least occasionally, whether from friends, family, or a professional cleaning service. Depending on your physical condition you might need someone to come once a month or even once a week or more often to help with heavier cleaning tasks.
Avoid Getting Sick
When you have COPD, a flu is more than just a flu. Getting any kind of respiratory virus or infection can wreak havoc on your lungs and cause a life-threatening exacerbation.
That's why it's so important to protect yourself from viruses and bacteria. That means getting vaccinated, staying on top of your medications, and going out of your way to avoid anything that could get you sick.
|Photo by Senior Airman Areca T. Wilson|
One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from illnesses that cause exacerbations is to get regular vaccinations. Even a mild flu can cause serious complications for people with COPD, even if the symptoms are mild and you are able to keep your symptoms under control.
People with COPD are also much more likely to get pneumonia as the result of a mild flu or other illness. To help prevent exacerbations and other complications, doctors recommend the flu vaccine and Pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine for all people with COPD.
You'll need to get a new flu shot every year to protect against that year's most common influenza virus strains. Most adults who are up-to-date with their shots have already received a pneumococcal vaccine, but the CDC recommends getting two more doses if you're over the age of 65.
You can get flu and pneumococcal vaccines from your usual doctor or you can visit a local pharmacy that offers vaccinations.
Getting vaccinated can be very effective at keeping you healthy during peak flu season, but the flu vaccine is not always 100% effective. It's still just as important to practice proper hygiene and protect yourself from germs and people who are sick.
Stay Away from Sick People
Anytime anyone you know is sick with a contagious illness, you should stay away from them at all costs. Even minor colds and non-respiratory illnesses can compromise your lungs and immune system and cause an exacerbation.
People with COPD tend to have compromised immune systems, which is part of the reason minor illnesses can have such dangerous effects. But it also means that you are much more prone to contracting contagious illnesses, and more prone to getting secondary infections, too.
It's always disappointing to have to cancel a get-together or an evening out with friends, but it is a necessary thing to do if someone is sick. Even if a friend or family member says they feel well enough to participate, you should wait until they are fully recovered and no longer contagious before spending time with that person.
Don't go to anyone's house if someone who lives there is sick, even if the sick person won't be present. Simply touching a doorknob or sitting on a couch with the sick person's germs can be enough to make you ill, especially if you have a compromised immune system because of COPD.
You should also be particularly careful when spending time in doctor's offices or hospitals, which carry an elevated risk of exposure to viruses and bacteria. Do your best to touch as few things as possible, and don't use items that other patients or people in the waiting room have touched.
Instead, anytime you have to go to the hospital or doctor's office, bring your own pen to sign yourself in. It's also a good idea to keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you anytime you go out in public to use after you touch doorknobs or other common surfaces.
Avoid Crowded Places
Large events and crowds are breeding pools for all kinds of viruses and bacteria. Even healthy people have to be extra cautious in large crowds and take extra precautions not to get sick.
But if you have COPD, you have to even more careful. Because COPD suppresses your immune system, people with the disease are much more prone to getting sick when exposed to lots of people's germs.
There's only so much you can do to protect yourself at large events with lots of people, which is why most doctors recommend avoiding large crowds altogether. It's just not worth taking the risk when getting sick could cause an exacerbation that could permanently damage your lungs or even be deadly.
Stay on Top of Your Medications
Even if you follow all of the advice above, you're likely to get sick if you don't keep up with your medications. It's important to take all the medications recommended by your doctor as prescribed to keep your lungs and airways healthy and resistant to disease.
If your doctor prescribes you antibiotics for a flare-up or exacerbation, always finish the entire course. Never stop taking them because you feel better, or you could end up with a serious antibiotic-resistant infection.
It's also important to use your bronchodilator medications to keep your airways open and clear. You should also practice mucus clearance techniques to get rid of excess mucus, which tends to trap bacteria and raise your chances for flare-ups and infections.
If you use supplemental oxygen, make sure you always have it around when you need it, especially during a flare-up or exacerbation. Using your supplemental oxygen helps you control breathlessness and other symptoms and prevent more serious complications and hospitalization.
Here are some additional tips for keeping up with your medications:
- Take your medications exactly as prescribed or recommended by your doctor.
- Try to take your medications at the exact time every day to make the habit easier to learn.
- Keep a calendar or schedule with all your medications listed along with how often you should take them.
- Set alarms on your phone to remind you to take your medication.
- Organize your medication every week into a pill box to save time and hassle.
- Talk to your doctor about what you should do if you miss a dose of medication. If you are late taking a dose, it's usually okay to take it as soon as you remember, unless you are supposed to be taking your next dose of the same medication very soon.
- Always get your new prescription before your current one runs out. It's best to get it filled at least a few days before you take your last dose of the previous batch so you have some wiggle room if there's any delay. Never wait until you've already run out of your medication to get or fill a new prescription!
- Always talk to your doctor before taking any supplements or over-the-counter medications. Anything that your doctor hasn't recommended could be unsafe for your condition or could interact with other prescription medications you are taking.
Wash Your Hands Often
Washing your hands is one of the best ways to avoid exposing yourself to germs that could get you sick, especially in public places where the risk of encountering a contagious virus or infection is much higher.
Bacteria and viruses get transferred to your hands whenever you touch common surfaces like grocery carts, doorknobs, pens, credit card readers, etc. If you don't clean your hands afterward, you can transfer these illness-causing germs directly to your body if you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
That's why you should wash your hands immediately after visiting any public place, including the library, grocery store, or gas station. You can also bring along a pocket container of hand sanitizer to use after touching surfaces that other people touch.
In-between hand-washings, make sure you don't inoculate yourself by making a special effort not to touch your face. If you follow these simple steps and avoid large crowds, you can significantly reduce your chances of contracting an illness from public places.
But first, you should make sure you know how to wash your hands the right way. Even though most people wash their hands daily, many don't know the proper and effective way to do it.
This is how you practice proper hand-washing technique:
- Wet: Start by wetting your hands under the faucet.
- Soap: Turn off the water and apply soap to your hands. (You can use liquid soap, powdered soap, or bar soap.)
- Lather: Next, rub your hands together with the soap to make it lather.
- Scrub: Spend about twenty seconds scrubbing your hands all over. Rub the soap all over every part of your hands, including the backs of your hands, wrists, palms, and in-between your fingers. If you need help timing it, you can hum the tune to “Happy Birthday” twice in your head to equal about twenty seconds. Don't forget to scrub underneath your fingernails, too (you can get a nail brush to keep by your sink to be more thorough).
- Rinse: Once you're done scrubbing, turn on the faucet and rinse your hands clean under the running water.
- Dry: Finally, get a clean towel to dry off your hands.
When to Wash Your Hands
You should be washing your hands and paying extra attention to hygiene all the time, not just when you're out in public. Even in your own home, you can greatly reduce your risk of getting sick by washing your hands on a regular basis.
Here's some general hand-washing tips you can use both at home and when you're out and about. We've split it into two sections, things you should wash your hands before doing and things you should wash your hands after.
Always Wash Your Hands Before:
- Preparing food (and during, as well, especially if you are handling meat)
- Eating a meal or snack
- Being around a sick or injured person
- Treating minor wounds and injuries
- Touching your face, nose, mouth, or eyes
Always Wash Your Hands After:
- Preparing food (especially after handling meat)
- Being around a sick or injured person
- Treating a wound or injury
- Touching an animal or pet
- Touching your pet's waste, toys, leash, or other items
- Using the bathroom
- Using chemicals or cleaners
- Using garden or lawn chemicals
- Shaking hands or touching another person
- Coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
- Touching garbage or handling trash
- Changing a diaper
- Being out in a public place
Water is a vital and often underestimated tool for good health. Proper hydration gives you energy, boosts your immune system, and keeps your body working efficiently.
If you have COPD, drinking enough water is particularly important to keep your lungs and the rest of your body strong. It supports healthy muscles for better exercise, healthy digestion, and helps keep your airways clear and free from harmful bacteria.
When you get dehydrated, the mucus in your airways gets thicker, which blocks your airways and makes it more difficult to breathe. Thick mucus also traps bacteria and significantly increases your risk for respiratory illnesses and infections.
When you stay hydrated, your mucus is thinner and easier to clear out of your lungs and airways. It also reduces bloating, lubricates your respiratory tract, and keeps your immune system working efficiently.
Tips for Drinking Enough Water
Most adults should drink about six to eight cups of water each day, but it varies from person to person according to the CDC. You should drink water whenever you are thirsty and make an effort to hydrate multiple times throughout the day.
Stress, breathing difficulties, and mobility issues make it difficult for some people with COPD to drink enough water every day. Some people simply forget and don't drink water until they are already dehydrated.
Drinking soda, sugary juices, and other caffeinated beverages is another bad habit that can lead to dehydration. It's important to drink pure, fresh water whenever possible and limit how many sugary, carbonated, and alcoholic drinks you have.
Here are some general tips for staying hydrated with COPD:
- Many people with COPD tend to feel boated and experience breathing difficulties when their stomach is full, causing them to avoid eating or drinking. If this happens to you, try sipping or drinking small amounts of water at a time and spread it out through the day so it doesn't cause bloating and breathlessness. You might also avoid drinking water before meals so you save room for more calorie-dense foods and avoid getting too full.
- Avoid caffeinated, sugary, and sodium-filled drinks like sodas, fruit juice, and energy drinks. Caffeinated beverages can cause bloating and difficulty breathing, while sugary drinks are unhealthy and full of empty calories.
- Keep filled-up water bottles in strategic places around your house so you don't forget to hydrate and you always have a convenient source of water nearby.
- Always plan to drink extra water during the summer and when you do any physical activity. You have a much greater risk of dehydration whenever you exercise, sweat, or spend time in the heat.
- If you really want to drink something besides water, try milk, fruit-infused water, decaffeinated coffee, or decaffeinated tea. These are much better choices than sugary sodas or juices.
Get Better Sleep
Did you know that the quality of your sleep can have a huge effect on your COPD? Studies show that patients who get poor sleep are anywhere from ten to fifty percent more likely to experience an exacerbation.
Unfortunately, living with COPD makes getting enough sleep difficult for a variety of reasons. Sleep disorders are very common among people with COPD, and the disease comes with uncomfortable symptoms that can affect your quality of sleep.
Chest discomfort, difficulty breathing, and coughing are all extremely common COPD symptoms and, for some people, they get even worse at night. Dealing with these symptoms at bedtime makes getting to sleep and staying asleep extremely difficult.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to get better quality sleep with COPD. By optimizing your sleeping environment, managing your symptoms, and taking care of any co-occurring sleep disorders you can get better rest and reduce your chances of having an acute exacerbation.
Here are some general tips for getting better sleep with COPD:
- Regular exercise and living an active lifestyle makes it easier to feel tired and fall asleep at night.
- Create a dark, cool, comfortable environment to sleep in. Make sure you have enough blankets to keep yourself at a comfortable temperature.
- If noises tend to wake you up at night or in the early morning, wear earplugs or use a white noise machine to block out disruptive sounds while you sleep.
- It is best to sleep on your back or your side for proper posture. Place a pillow or rolled up towel under your knees (if you lie on your back) or between your legs (if you lie on your side).
- Only use your bed for sleeping and sex, but nothing else. Don't keep your phone, laptop, tablet, or any other electronic device in or near your bed.
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. This will help your body get on a regular schedule and make it easier to fall asleep.
- Avoid taking long naps or sleeping in too late; both can make it more difficult to get to sleep that night.
- If you suffer from acid reflux, which is particularly common among COPD patients, it can make it difficult to breathe at night. Avoid discomfort and breathing difficulties by eating a GERD-friendly diet and avoid eating food in the two to three hours before you go to bed.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine in the evenings.
- Prop up your head and neck with pillows to elevate them and make it easier to breathe.
- If you find it difficult to breathe when you sleep, talk to your doctor about using nighttime supplemental oxygen.
- Talk to your doctor about any medication side effects that might be making it difficult for you to sleep. Your doctor can identify any potential culprits and adjust your medication or dosage accordingly. DO NOT change medications or dosages without consulting your doctor first.
- Get a sleep test to check for sleep apnea, which is a very common sleep disorder in COPD patients. It happens when your airways collapse and obstruct your breathing while you sleep, causing you to wake up frequently without consciously realizing it. If it turns out you do have sleep apnea, you can get a mouthpiece or positive expiratory pressure (PEP) device that can improve your quality of sleep.
Get a Fingertip Pulse Oximeter
One of the earliest warning signs of a COPD flare-up or exacerbation is a drop in blood oxygen levels. This can happen when illness or inflammation reduces your respiratory function and your lungs can't get enough oxygen to supply your body.
Patients often don' t notice that their blood oxygen levels have fallen until they get a headache or start to feel dizzy, faint, or breathless. Some patients don't get any symptoms or don't notice them as a sign of low oxygen levels, and don't get help until their condition gets much more severe.
If left untreated, low blood oxygen levels can be very dangerous and even cause serious complications including heart problems and death in severe cases. It can also be a warning sign of an oncoming exacerbation, which is why it's so important to be able to recognize low blood oxygen saturation and treat it promptly.
That's when a quick diagnostic tool like a pulse oximeter can come in handy and possibly even save your life. A pulse oximeter can accurately and instantly read your blood oxygen levels to warn you if they get dangerously low.
This is a great way to make sure that you're getting enough oxygen and to monitor your COPD on a daily basis. By tracking your blood oxygen saturation readings and testing yourself often you can gain a lot of valuable information that can help you manage and treat your disease.
How to Use a Pulse Oximeter
To use your personal pulse oximeter at home, all you have to do is clamp the small, clamshell-shaped device onto the tip of your finger. In moments the device will display a readout of your current blood oxygen saturation levels on the screen.
The best part about using a pulse oximeter is that there is no pricking or pinching or discomfort involved at all. It's completely non-invasive, comfortable, and and incredibly easy to use.
It works by simply shining an infrared light onto the top of your finger, where it shines through your skin and to the sensor underneath. The light passes through blood vessels in your finger, and the sensor can tell how much of your blood is oxygenated based on your pulse rate and how much of the light gets absorbed by oxygen-rich red blood cells.
The pulse oximeter then shows your blood oxygen saturation as a SpO2 value, or as a percentage of the maximum amount of oxygen your blood can hold. It's important to know how to interpret these values to understand what it means in terms of your COPD.
Here is how you interpret the readings:
- SpO2 of 95%-100%: Normal, healthy range.
- Sp02 of 90%-95%: Slightly low oxygen saturation. It is not healthy for your oxygen saturation to be this low for extended periods of time.
- SpO2 less than 90%: Very low oxygen saturation. You should use supplemental oxygen when your saturation levels fall below 90%.
Pulse oximeters are generally very accurate, but you might need to get it calibrated first. Sometimes the baseline for your readouts needs to be adjusted based on your skin type or other physiological characteristics.
Although pulse oximeters are generally very simple to use, you can talk to your doctor if you have questions or need help calibrating it at first. Your doctor can also show you how to interpret the data and how to get the most accurate readings possible.
You should also be aware of a few things that can cause skewed or inaccurate readouts, like very cold skin or certain colors of nail polish. Here is a list of things to watch out for that could affect the accuracy of your pulse oximeter readings:
- Irregular blood flow or heart rate
- Poor circulation
- Very cold hands
- Dark nail polish (especially blue and black)
- Extremely bright lights
- Some pulse oximeters need to be specially calibrated for darker skin tones
When to Use Your Pulse Oximeter
A pulse oximeters is a great investment that can help you better manage your COPD in many different ways. It can help you better understand your symptoms, keep your oxygen levels in a healthy range, and even prevent serious exacerbations.
You can use your personal pulse oximeter as much as you like to check your blood oxygen levels throughout the day. It's a great way to figure out what kinds of activities and environments affect your oxygen levels and when to use your supplemental oxygen, if your doctor prescribes it.
It's also a great way to get early warning if something goes seriously wrong. If you feel ill or experience a flare-up, your pulse oximeter readings can let you know when your oxygen saturation levels drop low enough to warrant immediate medical attention.
Pulse oximeters are light, cheap, and an indispensable tool for people with severe COPD or who experience frequent exacerbations. Having your own pulse oximeter at home would not only help you stay healthy and give you peace of mind, but it could also give you early warning of a serious complication and save your life.
Eat the Right Foods for Healthy Lungs
Did you know that the foods that you eat can affect your COPD symptoms and how easy it is to breathe? That's right; your diet is intimately tied with your lung function and can have a significant impact on your health with COPD.
Certain foods are more taxing on your respiratory system and make your lungs have to work harder to absorb enough oxygen. Other foods are necessary for getting the right amounts of calories and nutrients, as well as preventing COPD-related weight loss and malnutrition.
If you eat unhealthy or inflammatory foods, have a low BMI, or don't get enough vitamins and minerals, you can significantly increase your chances for a COPD flare-up or exacerbation. When your lungs have to work harder or don't have the energy and nutrients they need to work efficiently, they are much more susceptible to triggers, irritants, and illnesses that can make your COPD symptoms significantly worse.
Foods to Avoid
There are certain foods, like processed meats and sugar that are unhealthy and may lead to inflammation that affects your ability to breathe. Other foods, like spicy and acidic foods, can cause bloating and stomach discomfort, especially if you have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
Here are some examples of foods you should avoid in order to stay healthy and reduce your chances of having an exacerbation.
Foods that Cause Heartburn and Indegestion
- Very fatty and greasy foods
- Acidic foods
- Garlic and onions
- Spicy foods and black pepper
- Citrusy fruits like lemons, oranges, and grapefruits
- Cruciferous veggies (these tend to cause gas and bloating)
- Bonus Tip: Eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of three large ones, eat more slowly, and don't eat too close to bedtime to avoid heartburn and indigestion.
- Corn syrup
- Soda and fruit juices
- Pasta sauces
- Barbecue sauces
- Breakfast cereals
- Sweetened dairy products (flavored milk, yogurt, and cheeses)
- Low-fat foods (these tend to have extra sugar and salt added to make up for the bland taste caused by the reduced fat content)
- Always check the ingredient list on any packaged foods before you buy them to check for added sugars and salt. You will be surprised at how much extra sugar is packed into foods that you would never have guessed.
- Canned vegetables, soups, sauces, and salsas
- Pickled vegetables like pickles, pickled artichoke hearts, and olives
- Cured and processed meats
- Soda and energy drinks
- Bagels and other baked goods
- Condiments (e.g. ketchup and mustard)
- Frozen meals
- Instant noodle meals
- Processed, packaged snacks like crackers, chips, and pretzels
- Deli meats
- Cured meats
- Beef jerky
- Hot dogs
- Corned beef
- Canned meats and meat sauces
Foods You Should Eat
It's important to eat right in order to get enough nutrients to fuel your body and maintain a healthy BMI. Being underweight, overweight, or malnourished is a sure way to make your disease worse and increase your risk for exacerbations.
Now that you know what not to eat, you should know what kinds of fruits, veggies, proteins, and grains you should eat for a healthy and balanced diet. Getting enough calories is important, but getting them from the right sources is just as important to keep your lungs and the rest of your body strong.
Every person needs a good balance of the three main macro nutrients in your diet: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. If you have COPD, you need a slightly different balance of these nutrients in order to protect your lungs and minimize your respiratory symptoms.
In particular, COPD patients should eat fewer carbohydrates than what's usually recommended for healthy adults and eat more proteins and fats instead. That's because carbohydrates actually have a direct negative effect on your lungs.
The more carbohydrates you eat, the harder your lungs have to work in order absorb oxygen. Studies show that when people with COPD reduce their carbohydrate intake, it can cause noticeable improvements in lung function, reduce shortness of breath, and may even reduce the frequency of COPD exacerbations.
However, you still need to include healthy carbohydrates in your meals in order to get essential nutrients and provide your body with the energy it needs to function. Carbs are your body's most useful, immediate source of energy, and not getting enough can make you feel weak and fatigued.
Some carbs are much better than others, however, and you should always eat complex carbohydrates instead of simple carbs. Simple carbs cause spikes in blood sugar and are little more than empty calories, while complex carbohydrates give your body a longer-term source of energy.
Here are some examples of healthy carbohydrates you should include in your diet:
- Whole grain breads, crackers, and pastas
- Beans and peas
- Brown rice and wild rice
- High-fiber grains (e.g. barley, rye, and spelt)
- Starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes, corn, pumpkin, and peas)
- Fresh, whole fruits with fiber
Muscle wasting is a common problem in people with COPD, which is why it's so important for people with the disease to get an adequate amount of protein their diet. Protein is vital for building and maintaining muscle, and if you don't get enough from your diet your body will break down your muscles to take their protein, instead.
This causes muscle weakness, fatigue, and makes exercising very difficult. And since exercise is one the most important parts of COPD treatment, it's very important to keep your muscles healthy and strong.
You should always seek out lean proteins instead of fatty proteins, and choose fresh, lean meats over processed meats. Seafood is fantastic source of protein and it usually contains moderate amounts of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Here are some examples of healthy proteins you should include in your diet:
- Fish (e.g. salmon, tuna, cod, bass, perch, halibut)
- Lean poultry (white meat chicken and white meat turkey)
- Dairy (milk, yogurt, and cheese)
- Lean beef
- Pork tenderloin
- Beans and legumes
- Soy (e.g. soymilk or tofu)
- Protein drinks and powders
Healthy fats are a very important part of a healthy diet for COPD. Fatty foods tend to be more calorie-dense which is great for patients on a high-calorie diet.
When you have COPD, your lungs have to work harder and use more energy, which means you need extra calories to make up the difference. If you are underweight or have difficulty getting enough calories, then adding more healthy fats to your diet is a great way to gain or maintain weight.
Not all fats are equally healthy, however. Nutritional guidelines say you should avoid trans fats and saturated fats when possible and choose unsaturated fats instead.
It's usually easy to tell the difference: saturated fats are solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats are liquid. That means that vegetable oils are unsaturated, while butter is a saturated fat.
Here are some examples of healthy fats you should include in your diet:
- Vegetable oils, nut oils, and seed oils (e.g. olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, and peanut oil)
- Fatty fish (e.g. salmon, anchovies, sardines, trout, Pacific and Atlantic mackerel, and herring) Plus, they have the added bonus of lots of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Nuts and nut butters (e.g. walnuts, almond butter, and macadamia nuts)
- Chia seeds
- Dairy (milk, yogurt, and cheese)
- Dark chocolate
Vitamin D is an important nutrient for a variety of reasons; it's necessary for healthy bones, calcium absorption, and a healthy immune system. Studies also show that vitamin D can prevent COPD exacerbations and even slow the pace at which patients lose lung function over time.
This is probably because, for a variety of reasons, COPD patients tend to be deficient in vitamin D. Researchers suspect that this deficiency leads to worsened symptoms and quicker disease progression, especially in people with advanced COPD.
Along with preventing exacerbations, vitamin D can help patients deficient in the vitamin recover from infections and exacerbations more quickly. Vitamin D is also important for the vital role it plays in repairing and maintaining your bones; COPD patients are particularly prone to bone weakness and osteoporosis, making it all the more necessary to get enough vitamin D in your diet.
Signs of Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency usually results from an inadequate diet and too much time spent indoors. It tends to occur in people with COPD who are underweight and have difficulty eating enough food.
But diet alone is usually not enough to get an adequate amount of vitamin D every day. The rest usually comes from sunlight, which stimulates your body to produce vitamin D when it shines on your skin. Unfortunately, many vitamin D-deficient COPD patients are sedentary and spend hardly any time at all doing outdoor activities.
Vitamin D deficiency doesn't usually come with many symptoms, which is why most people who are deficient don't even realize it. However, there are some subtle signs of vitamin D deficiency that you should know how to recognize:
- Frequent illnesses or infections
- Wounds that take longer to heal
- Worsened fatigue
- Pain in bones
- Bone weakness
- Back pain
How to Get Enough Vitamin D
If you have COPD, it's important to make sure your diet includes enough vitamin D. It will not only keep your bones and immune system strong, but it can even lower your risk of experiencing moderate or life-threatening exacerbations.
Most people should get about 1,000 IUs of vitamin D every day. Here are some foods you can eat to get more vitamin D in your diet:
- Sake salmon
- Cod liver oil
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
- Milk, yogurt, and other dairy products that are fortified with Vitamin D
- Orange juice fortified with vitamin D
- Vitamin D supplements
To up your vitamin D intake, try drinking vitamin-D-fortified orange juice with breakfast and eating fortified yogurt or cheese with a meal every day. You should also try to eat a vitamin D-rich fish like tuna or sake salmon once or twice a week.
It's also important to know that if you smoke, it actually reduces your body's ability to absorb vitamin D. Along with the fact that smoking damages your lungs, reduces your lifespan, and speeds up the progression of COPD, vitamin D deficiency is just one more thing to add to list of reasons why it's so important to quit smoking.
As final tip for getting extra vitamin D, spend a few minutes in the sun! Approximately ten minutes or so with the sun on your skin will give you about 1,000 IU of vitamin D. If you have dark pigmented skin, it will take longer. Don't forget to wear sunscreen the rest of the time, though; there's no need to damage your skin or increase your risk of cancer.
Get Plenty of Exercise
If you have COPD, physical activity should be your number one priority. It's the most effective way to strengthen your breathing muscles, improve your mobility, and improve your quality of life.
COPD patients who get more physical activity are stronger, healthier, and show fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. Avoiding exercise and living a sedentary life, on the other hand, causes you to lose lung function quicker and experience an overall quicker physical decline.
That's why it's so very, incredibly important to be as active as you can every day. That can include daily walks around your neighborhood, weekly trips to the gym, or even chores and activities around the house.
What's most important is finding activities that you enjoy and that are appropriate for your physical condition. Your doctor can help you put together a personalized exercise plan that matches your fitness level and will help you improve your strength and health.
There are a variety of types of exercise, and most of them can be done from the comfort of your own home if you choose. In the next sections, we'll give you some pointers for well-rounded exercise and direct you to a variety of instructional resources you can use to get started.
Cardiovascular exercise is a type of exercise that uses continuous movement to get your heart rate and breathing rate up. This helps strengthen your heart and the muscles in your chest that you use to breathe, reducing COPD symptoms like chest tightness and shortness of breath.
There are a variety of cardiovascular activities you can do at home, including walking, biking, and jogging. Here are some other ideas for cardiovascular activities you can do to improve your COPD:
- Paying with pets or children
- Low-impact aerobics
- Jumping rope
- Stair climbing
- Cleaning the house (e.g. vacuuming, raking, gardening, etc.)
While many COPD patients have difficulty exercising because of breathlessness and other symptoms, muscle weakness is actually the most common reason that patients avoid exercise. This highlights the importance of doing muscle strengthening exercises to improve endurance, mobility, and make it easier to stay active.
Some strength training exercises require weights, but you can do many strength exercises that don't require any equipment at all. However, if you don't have a gym membership, you might consider investing in a small set of lightweight hand weights so you can work out your arms more efficiently.
When you do strength training exercises, it's important to spend time on a variety of different muscle groups. Most exercises are categorized as either upper-body exercises or lower-body exercises, and some people tend to alternate focusing on upper-body or lower-body exercises with each workout.
You can find a variety of strength training videos online, including YouTube, to help you get started. You can also find strength workout DVDs on Amazon, from video stores, or even at your local library.
Here are some great instructional websites you can visit to practice new strength training exercises:
Stretching is an important part of warming up and cooling down when you exercise. You should take at least a few minutes to stretch before and after every single workout.
Doing this helps limber up your body and get it ready for activity, improving your flexibility and reducing your chances for sprains and other injuries. Stretching is also a great light exercise to do every day, especially if you tend to get stiff, sore, or have limited mobility.
You should take time every day to stretch out common problem areas like your back, shoulders, legs, and arms. Here are a couple of great resources with instructions and pictures for stretching exercises you can practice:
Controlling your breathing is a vital part of managing COPD symptoms like coughing and shortness of breath. You have to be able to slow and steady your breaths in order to recover from bouts of breathlessness and breathe normally again.
The best way to do this is by practicing tried and true breathing exercises recommended for people with respiratory diseases. Everyone who has COPD should be familiar with the two most basic breathing exercises: pursed lips breathing and diaphragmic breathing.
If you have COPD, you should practice these techniques often, even when you're not experiencing any acute symptoms. This strengthens your breathing muscles and helps you remember how to breathe correctly in the heat of those moments when your symptoms act up.
To learn more about breathing exercises that can help your COPD, visit the American Lung Association's website for detailed instructional videos you can follow along with. You can also get detailed instructions on a variety of breathing exercises from this article on Healthline and this page on the Lung Institute's website.
Make a COPD Action Plan
Disease self-management is a vital part of staying healthy and treating your COPD. That means following your COPD treatment plan and knowing how and when to use your different medications.
Many COPD patients have multiple prescriptions and medications for managing their symptoms; these might include bronchodilators, corticosteroids, antibiotics, supplemental oxygen, and more. Some of these medications are prescribed to be taken on a schedule, while others are used as-needed to address symptoms, flare-ups, and exacerbations as they happen.
It can be confusing to remember which medications to take and how bad your symptoms should be before you take them. You might be unsure of what symptoms warrant a call to your doctor or at what point you should go to the emergency room for worsened symptoms.
That's why it's important to have a COPD Action Plan, an easy-to-reference chart that helps you figure out what to do and what medications to take based on how you feel. There are sample action plans available from the American Lung Association and Australian Lung Foundation websites to give you an idea of how they work.
You will have to work with your doctor to put together an action plan that's tailored to you and your unique condition. After all, symptom severity varies widely among people with COPD, and your action plan will have to account for the range of symptoms you experience on a typical day.
Having an action plan in place will give you peace of mind and a solid, written set of guidelines for exactly how to manage your symptoms. Doing this will help you keep your symptoms in check, respond appropriately to flare-ups, and can significantly reduce your chance of experiencing an exacerbation. Even if you get an exacerbation despite managing your symptoms properly, following an action plan can reduce the time it takes to recover from the exacerbation.
COPD action plans are generally separated into three main sections, with each section addressing a different level of symptom severity. Here's a quick overview of what a three-part COPD action plan looks like.
The green zone refers to your baseline, how you feel on a normal, typical day. This is when your symptoms are at their lowest level and you're not experiencing a flare-up or exacerbation. Hopefully, this is the plan that you will follow on the vast majority of days.
When to Follow the Green Zone Plan:
- You feel well enough to do your usual daily activities
- You are having a typical amount of mucus and sputum
- You have a healthy appetite
- You are sleeping normally
Example Actions to Take in the Green Zone (your doctor will tailor this to your condition and medications):
- Take your daily medications as usual
- Follow your regular diet plan and exercise schedule
- Use supplemental oxygen (if prescribed) as usual
The yellow zone refers to days when your symptoms are acting up worse than usual. This might include days when you are experiencing a minor exacerbation or slightly worsened symptoms due to weather, allergies, or air pollution. You should follow your yellow-zone plan whenever your symptoms are elevated from their usual baseline.
When to Follow the Yellow Zone Plan:
- You have less energy for your usual daily activities
- You are experiencing increased or thickened mucus and sputum
- Your appetite is less than usual
- You are coughing more than usual
- You are getting poor sleep or wake up often because of your symptoms
- You are having to use your quick-relief medications more often than normal
- Your usual medications are not helping as well as they usually do
Example Actions to Take in the Yellow Zone (your doctor will tailor this to your condition and medications):
- Continue taking daily medications as usual
- Continue using supplemental oxygen (if prescribed) normally
- Use your quick relief medication more often (your doctor might give you a specific increment, such as every 3-4 hours)
- Start taking an oral corticosteroid medication (your doctor might include this in your plan along with the specific dosage and how often you should take it)
- Start taking an antibiotic (your doctor might include this in your plan along with the specific dosage and how often you should take it)
- Use pursed-lips breathing technique
- Try to get extra rest
- If your symptoms don't improve within a certain period of time (determined by your doctor), you should call your doctor right away.
The red zone is reserved for times when your symptoms become very severe, to the point that you need immediate medical attention. Being in the red zone is a medical emergency, and you doctor will tell you how to recognize when your symptoms get to that point.
When to Follow the Red Zone Plan:
- You are unable to do regular activities because of breathlessness
- You experience severe shortness of breath, even when resting
- Breathing difficulties are making it impossible to sleep
- You experience shaking, chills, or a fever
- You feel extremely drowsy, fatigued, or confused
- You are experiencing chest pains
- You are coughing up blood
Example Actions to Take in the Red Zone (your doctor will tailor this to your condition and medications):
- Call 911 or have someone take you to an emergency room right away
- While awaiting help from medical specialists, do the following: (your doctor will tell you the appropriate actions to take while you wait for professional care)
If you have COPD, then you know that periods of worsened symptoms are inevitable. However, the choices you make can have a significant influence on the frequency and severity of flare-ups and exacerbations.
But if you follow the steps in this article you can significantly reduce your risk for exacerbations and improve your chances for a full recovery if it happens. You just have to protect your lungs, take care of your body, and follow your COPD treatment plan along with any other advice your doctor gives you.
You can't always control or prevent an exacerbation, but you can control whether or not you make healthy choices. Now that you know a variety of ways to prevent COPD exacerbations, it's up to you to build the habits that will keep you healthy and strong.'
10 Habits That Can Worsen COPD
If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you already know that smoking and eating an unhealthy diet can worsen your condition. But there are other things that you should avoid, too.
Here are 10 common habits that can harm your health, and what to do instead:
1. Never Exercising
"If you aren’t active, you’ll eventually become out of shape — something that, over time, can make even normal daily activities harder to do," says MeiLan K. Han, MD, national spokesperson for the American Lung Association and a professor of internal medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.
A study published in January 2019 in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease found that regular physical activity among COPD patients results in long-term clinical benefits and healthcare cost savings. Conversely, a study published in March 2017 in the journal Respiratory Care linked sedentary behavior with increased risk of mortality in people with COPD.
Another reason to work out: Exercise can help alleviate the symptoms of depression in people with COPD, according to a study published in December 2016 in the journal African Health Sciences.
2. Eating a Lot of Junk Food
Eating too much high-calorie food can contribute to obesity and worsen people’s ability to breathe and exercise, according to Dr. Han. Plus, junk food is often high in sodium, which can cause you to retain fluids — something that could lead to congestion and make it harder for you to breathe, says E. Neil Schachter, MD, a pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
3. Having an Erratic Sleep Schedule
Everyone needs quality shut-eye, but this is especially true for people with COPD, who need to keep their immune systems as healthy as possible, Han says. Unfortunately, COPD patients often experience a range of sleep disturbances.
According to the COPD Foundation, for example, sleep apnea, a condition in which a person's breathing becomes shallow or stops during sleep, occurs in 10 to 15 percent of COPD patients. People who suffer from sleep apnea should talk to their doctor about lifestyle changes and treatments that can help.
Staying up late some nights can throw off your body clock and make it difficult for you to get the sleep you need. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help you stick to your sleep schedule.
4. Leaving Your Oxygen at Home When You Go Out
For people with low resting saturations who need oxygen, going without oxygen puts excess strain on the heart, Han says. If your doctor has given you a prescription for a delivery system for supplemental oxygen that keeps you mobile, Medicare is required to provide the equipment, according to the COPD Foundation.
5. Overexerting Yourself
Moderate exercise can improve the body's use of oxygen, muscle strength, energy levels, mood, and sleep patterns, according to the American Lung Association. Still, going overboard can be dangerous and cause exacerbations, Dr. Schachter says. “People with COPD have lower exercise thresholds — they can’t exercise to high degrees," he says. "But regular, mild exercise three or four times a week is vital.” The American Lung Association recommends pulmonary rehabilitation, stretching, aerobic exercise, and resistance training.
6. Never Dusting
Dust is a lung irritant, one that can worsen COPD. You should also avoid secondhand smoke and fumes from paint or other household chemicals. If you’re not able to clean your house regularly, you may want to find someone who can help you. People with COPD also should avoid using a fireplace or wood-burning stove.
7. Drinking Soda
Not only can drinking soda cause you to gain weight, but the beverage itself also contains carbonation, which can cause your stomach to swell up. “When your stomach swells, it pushes up against your diaphragm, making it harder for you to breathe,” Schachter says. Choose healthier alternatives, and be sure to stay hydrated.
8. Consuming Too Much Caffeine
Drinks such as coffee and tea and foods like chocolate all contain caffeine, a stimulant that can prevent you from falling asleep. If you’re drinking or eating caffeine, stop by early afternoon, Schachter says. The good news is that research, like one study published in September 2015 in the Pulmonology Journal, has not found a significant correlation between caffeine use and COPD exacerbations.
9. Letting Yourself Get Dehydrated
Without enough water, your mucus can become thick and stick to your lungs, adding to your breathing problems. Remember that drinks containing caffeine and alcoholic beverages can dehydrate you. The best drinks for staying hydrated include water, decaffeinated coffee or tea, and natural fruit juices.
10. Constantly Being Stressed Out
Dealing with a chronic lung condition can be stressful on its own; add in work duties and family obligations, and you might find that you’re feeling overly stressed or angry. Consider joining a support group, which can make you feel less lonely, allow you to vent your feelings, and teach you better ways to cope with certain situations. You might also want to ask your doctor if you should seek counseling.
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Effect of acute bicarbonate administration on exercise responses of COPD patients
Patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are limited in their exercise tolerance by the level of ventilation (VE) they can sustain. We determined whether acutely increasing blood bicarbonate levels decreased acid stimulation to the respiratory chemoreceptors during exercise, thereby improving exercise tolerance. Responses were compared with those obtained during 100% O2 breathing (known to reduce VE in these patients) and to the responses of healthy young subjects. Participants were six patients with severe COPD (forced expired volume in 1 s = 31 +/- 11% predicted) but without chronic CO2 retention and 5 healthy young subjects. Each subject performed three incremental cycle ergometer exercise tests: 1) control, 2) after ingestion of 0.3 g.kg-1 of sodium bicarbonate and 3) while breathing 100% O2. During these tests VE was measured continuously and arterialized venous blood (patients) or arterial blood (healthy subjects) was sampled serially to assess acid base variables. Bicarbonate loading increased standard bicarbonate by 4-6 mmol.L-1 and this elevation persisted during exercise. In both groups, bicarbonate loading resulted in a substantially higher arterial pH; arterial PCO2 was either unchanged (healthy subjects) or mildly (averaging 5 torr) higher (COPD patients). However, in neither group did bicarbonate loading result in an altered VE response to exercise or an increase in exercise tolerance. In contrast, superimposing hyperoxia on bicarbonate ingestion yielded, on average, 24% reduction in VE and 50% increase in peak work rate in the patients (but not in the healthy young subjects). We conclude that acute bicarbonate loading is not an ergogenic aid in patients with severe COPD.
11 Ways to Live Better With COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — or COPD for short — is a progressive lung disease, meaning it gets worse over time. It can cause symptoms like coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightening — and it may even interfere with your breathing at times.
While there may be times when COPD limits your ability to do even simple activities like walking or cooking, the good news is that COPD doesn’t have to render you powerless. There are many ways to proactively manage COPD symptoms, slow the progression of the disease, and enhance your quality of life.
Start with these 11 tips that can make a real difference and help you live better with COPD:
1. Get vaccinated. COPD flares, also known as exacerbations, are often caused by colds and the flu. Protect yourself by getting your yearly flu vaccine. Keep in mind that it’s better to get a standard shot than a nasal spray vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to the annual flu vaccine, it’s important to get the pneumonia vaccine at least once before age 65, with two booster doses at 65 years or older as recommended by your doctor.
But don’t stop there, says Barry J. Make, MD, professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary sciences and critical care medicine at the University of Colorado Denver and director of pulmonary rehabilitation and respiratory care and co-director of the COPD program at National Jewish Health in Denver. You also want to guard against whooping cough, which is often given in a combination vaccine called Tdap that also protects against tetanus and diphtheria. If you’re over 60, your doctor may also recommend a zoster vaccine to help protect against shingles. By getting these vaccines, you’ll help minimize your risk for infections that can lead to COPD complications.
2. Avoid germs. Do your best to steer clear of people who are sick, says Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonologist in private practice and medical spokesperson for Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. Be sure to stay away from crowds during cold and flu season to help prevent germs from getting you sick. “Hand washing is key, as is keeping your hands off of your face,” Dr. Horovitz adds.
3. Quit smoking.Smoking is the most significant risk factor for COPD, says Dr. Make. Don’t be fooled into thinking that e-cigarettes are any better for you if you have COPD. “E-cigarettes may not have tar or smoke, but they have other ingredients, such as flavorings, that you’re inhaling, and we don’t know the effects of these, so we can’t say they are safe," he says. If you want to quit, use smoking cessation aids that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), such as nicotine gum and patches.
4. Keep your air clean. Air quality can also trigger breathlessness and other COPD symptoms, says Horovitz. And indoor air can sometimes be more polluted than the air outdoors. “Make sure your indoor air is as clean as it can be by using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.” These filters can remove as much as 99 percent of indoor air pollutants. Other tips for improving indoor air include getting rid of wall-to-wall carpets and cleaning with green products or with natural cleaners like soap and water, baking soda, and vinegar.
5. Stay in shape. “People with COPD shouldn’t be too heavy or too thin,” Make says. If you’re overweight, your heart and lungs have to work harder to supply your body with oxygen. If you’re underweight, you might not be eating enough nutrients to get you the energy you need to do everyday tasks. To help maintain a healthy weight, eat a well-balanced diet and get regular exercise, which can also improve circulation and help your body use oxygen more efficiently. If you’re not sure if your weight is healthy or unhealthy, talk to your doctor.
6. Eat smaller meals. “Many people with COPD feel breathless after a large meal,” says Make. He advises eating smaller meals throughout the day to avoid that “too-full” feeling. Smaller meals can also help if you struggle with a lack of appetite. Because the increased effort of breathing in COPD causes you to burn more calories, make sure your meals provide high quality nutrition. Consult a registered dietitian to help you understand how to make the most of your calories.
7. Reduce stress. Stress can make any underlying condition worse, including COPD, says Horovitz. “Regular exercise and a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night are the best stress reducers out there,” he says. Exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing when you have COPD, but it improves COPD symptoms and will ultimately give you more energy, so talk to your doctor about how to develop an exercise regimen that will work for you.
8. Keep rescue medications on hand. Don't be afraid to use your prescribed short-acting beta agonists as rescue medications if you have trouble breathing or getting sputum (saliva and mucus) up. That’s what they're there for, says Make. But if you find yourself consistently using your rescue inhaler more than usual, talk to your doctor. You should also be sure to take your daily medications as directed.
9. Practice breathing techniques.Pursed lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing can help you conserve breath and stay active longer. Here’s how pursed lip breathing is done: Purse your lips and blow as much air out as you can before taking a deep breath in, and then slow down your breath so that you are using as much of your lungs as you can. To practice diaphragmatic breathing, relax your shoulders and place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. As you inhale through your nose, you should feel your stomach move outward. Press lightly on your stomach as you breathe out through pursed lips to help release air.
10. Keep in touch with your doctor. Don’t be a stranger, says Horovitz. Check in with your doctor when you're in distress or have a symptom that is new or unexplained, he adds. "This open communication can nip a COPD flare in the bud.”
11. Be prepared. Talk to your doctor about creating a COPD action plan so you know the best treatment to have on hand at home in case of a flare. This might include a home nebulizer and oxygen, Horovitz says. Finally, discuss with your doctor what symptoms should prompt you to use these treatments, as well as when it may be necessary to call a doctor and head to a hospital instead.
Managing COPD symptoms can be stressful at times, but these tips can help make living with COPD easier. Avoiding triggers and staying as healthy as possible will go a long way in treating this progressive lung condition.
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