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December 2018

Breathe Easier with This Information About COPD

Billie Jean King. Joe Namath. Muhammad Ali. These athletes were pros in their sports.

Older man using an inhaler

When it comes to managing your chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may feel like an amateur. But with a little knowledge and help from your doctor, you can change your status to pro in no time.  

What is COPD?

When you have COPD, the airways in your lungs become thick and inflamed. As a result, air isn’t able to flow in and out of your lungs as well as it should. COPD causes symptoms such as:

  • Coughing

  • Shortness of breath

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Wheezing

  • Lots of phlegm

As the disease progresses, your symptoms can affect your ability to do everyday activities. 

Who’s at risk for COPD?

COPD most often occurs in adults ages 40 and older who smoke or used to smoke. You may also be at risk for developing the disease if you’ve had exposure to certain irritants for long periods of time such as:

  • Secondhand smoke

  • Chemicals

  • Dust

  • Fumes

How is COPD diagnosed?

Spirometry is one of the best tests for diagnosing COPD. The test uses a device called a spirometer. You’ll take a deep breath in and then blow out as hard and as fast as you can into a mouthpiece that’s connected to the spirometer. The test measures how much air you blow out and how fast you blow it.

If you have COPD symptoms or have been diagnosed with COPD, but haven’t received this test, talk with your doctor.

Managing COPD

If you recently found out that you have COPD, you probably have lots of questions about treating it. Different treatments work for different people, so discuss with your doctor which ones may be best for you.

COPD is often treated with medicines. Medicines for COPD are designed to:

  • Keep your airways open

  • Reduce mucus buildup

  • Decrease inflammation

Some examples of medicines used to treat COPD are:

  • Bronchodilators. These are often taken using an inhaler or nebulizer so the medicine goes right into your lungs.

  • Corticosteroids. This type of medicine is usually taken as a pill. You may need them for short periods of time if your symptoms suddenly get worse.

  • Combination medicines. Corticosteroids and bronchodilators may be combined into an inhaler or nebulizer so you get the benefits of both types of medicines.

  • Antibiotics. Infections can cause your COPD symptoms to flare up so you may need to take antibiotics to control the infection.

In addition to taking your medicines as prescribed, certain lifestyle changes can help manage your symptoms:

  • Quit smoking.

  • Get a yearly flu shot and ask your doctor about the pneumonia vaccine.

  • Eat a healthy diet. Consider meeting with a dietitian to discuss nutrients in foods that can improve your breathing. They include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk, eggs, cheese, fish, poultry, nuts, and beans.

  • Stay active. Ask your doctor whether a pulmonary rehabilitation program, which teaches you how to safely exercise with COPD, may be right for you.

Managing COPD can seem overwhelming. But working with your doctor and becoming more comfortable with the changes you’re making will help you feel more hopeful and in control of your health. And before you know it, you’ll be a pro at COPD management!  



Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/7/2018
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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