Difficulty breathing is one of the most troubling symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Even though this only happens occasionally, the feeling of shortness of breath can be uncomfortable and frightening.
COPD is an umbrella term for a group of lung diseases, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which make it increasingly difficult to breathe due to blocked airways.
While there is no cure for COPD, there are a number of simple things you can do to relieve shortness of breath and prevent your disease from getting worse.
“Many people with COPD and their doctors are so focused on medication that they don’t really talk about lifestyle changes, such as breathing exercises for COPD, and how to change their behavior for it. ‘to improve. breathing, ”says David A. Beuther, MD, PhD, pulmonologist at National Jewish Health in Denver.
Below are 12 simple lifestyle changes that can help relieve your COPD symptoms and boost your energy.
1. Learn This Breathing Exercise for COPD: “Pursed Lip”
When you suffer from shortness of breath, “pursed-lip” breathing can relax your airways and help you get back to normal, according to the American Lung Association (ALA).
Here’s how to do this exercise:
- Sit down and relax your neck and shoulders.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose, keeping your mouth closed and filling your lungs as much as possible.
- Purse your lips (as if you are trying to whistle) and slowly and gently release the air through your mouth for as long as you can. It is important that the exhalation is longer than the inspiration.
- Repeat three or four times.
Try doing this technique once or twice a day, as well as whenever you’re having trouble catching your breath.
2. Drink Plenty of Water
Staying well hydrated is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for people with COPD, says Dr. Beuther.
The disease can make the mucus produced by the lungs thick, sticky, and difficult to cough up. Drinking enough water can thin the mucus and make it much easier to remove, making it easier to breathe, Beuther explains.
The ALA recommends that people with COPD drink at least six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.
But talk to your doctor about how much water you can safely drink: Some people with COPD have conditions such as heart failure that could be made worse by drinking too much fluid.
3. Sit (or Stand) Correctly
Slouching can make it harder to breathe, notes the Canadian Lung Association. Straightening the back, on the other hand, helps open the airways.
If you experience shortness of breath, try moving into one of these positions:
Place both feet flat on the floor, then tilt your head and shoulders forward slightly, keeping your back straight. Rest your arms on your knees and keep them relaxed.
In standing up position
Lean your back against a wall, chair, or counter. Keeping your feet slightly apart, relax and tilt your head and shoulders forward slightly, keeping your back straight. Place your hands lightly on your thighs.
4. Wedge More Activity Into Your Day
Regular exercise can make a big difference in breathing capacity and COPD symptoms.
“A lot of people with COPD get more and more short of breath, but it’s not because of their lung function, it’s because they are deconditioned,” says Beuther.
While exercise can’t repair lung damage, it can strengthen your respiratory muscles, improve your circulation, and help you use oxygen more efficiently, says Daniel Ouellette, MD, pulmonologist and associate director of medical intensive care at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. .
At first, any physical activity can cause uncomfortable symptoms, like shortness of breath, but that’s part of the process, notes Dr. Ouellette.
“I try to reassure people that exercise is beneficial and that they are not going to hurt themselves while trying to exercise – in fact, it will improve their ability to do things,” he says. he.
While you should always consult your health care provider before starting an exercise routine, just getting out for a short walk every day can be a safe and easy way to start.
5. Know — and Avoid — Your Triggers
If you have COPD and allergies or asthma, certain things in the environment, such as dust, mold, and pet dander, can make your COPD symptoms worse.
While it can be difficult to completely avoid airborne allergens, reducing your exposure to triggers, especially in your home, can help you breathe easier.
That can mean putting protective covers on your pillows and mattress and keeping your pets out of the bedroom, says Loutfi Aboussouan, MD, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic Respiratory Institute in Ohio.
You can also use high efficiency particulate filters (HEPA) to remove dust and other irritants from the air, and if mold is a problem for you, use a dehumidifier in your home.
6. Prioritize Sleep
“When you sleep better, you will feel better and breathe better,” says Dr Aboussouan.
In fact, a study published in November 2019 in the journal Chest found a strong association between poor sleep and worsening COPD symptoms.
Poor sleep can weaken immune function and increase inflammation throughout the body, which experts believe can impact COPD. Fatigue also impairs memory, which can cause some people to take their COPD medications incorrectly.
Many people with COPD have an underlying sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, which makes it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
If you have trouble getting at least eight hours of sleep a night, talk to your doctor about ways to improve your sleep.
7. Eat Well
Food is the fuel your body needs to perform all activities, including breathing, says ALA. Getting the right mix of nutrients each day can help relieve shortness of breath and also boost your energy levels.
Eating a balanced diet also helps you maintain a healthy weight, which is especially important for people with COPD.
If you are overweight, your heart and lungs have to work harder, which makes it harder to breathe. Additionally, the extra weight might require more oxygen, explains the Cleveland Clinic.
On the other hand, if you are underweight, you may feel weak and tired. You might also be more vulnerable to potentially dangerous lung infections.
The best diet for you will depend on your current body weight and your need to lose or gain weight.
Talk to your doctor and a registered dietitian about diet changes that might help relieve your COPD symptoms and make you feel better.
8. Get Your Annual Vaccines — and the COVID-19 Shot
Flu and pneumonia vaccinations are very important for people with COPD, says Joseph Khabbaza MD, pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
“The flu shot is recommended every year, and you should get the vaccine as soon as it’s available if you have COPD or other chronic lung disease,” he advises.
You should also be vaccinated against pneumonia, as this lung infection is a high risk for people with COPD. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for all adults 65 years of age or older, but if you have COPD, you qualify regardless of your age.
Because people with COPD are at a higher risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19, getting the COVID-19 vaccine is also extremely important, says Michael Sims, MD, clinical director of the COPD program. of Penn Medicine in Philadelphia.
This vaccine is not only very effective in reducing your risk of contracting COVID-19, it also helps guard against the complications of respiratory failure and death – especially important protection for people with COPD, notes the Dr Sims.
9. Stamp Out Stress
Stress can be a vicious cycle for people with COPD. Not being able to breathe well creates anxiety. And, anxiety makes you breathe faster, which makes you even more breathless, notes the ALA.
In addition to your COPD, there may be things in your life – from your relationships to your work – that make you anxious and, in turn, cause your COPD symptoms to flare up.
Try to identify the stressors in your life and work out strategies to minimize them. Maybe you need to work on problematic relationships, tackle money issues, or better manage your pace and prioritize.
You may want to seek help from a therapist or social worker, who can help you through this process.
Plus, start incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily routine, such as breathing, visualization, mediation, and yoga exercises, recommends ALA.
These activities help slow your breathing and can help prevent stress from triggering a vicious cycle of increasing anxiety and shortness of breath.
10. Avoid Smoking — and Smokers
According to the World Health Organization, smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke are the main risk factors for COPD disease progression and death.
If you currently smoke, the most important step you can take to relieve your symptoms and improve your health is to quit, says Dr. Khabbaza.
Quitting smoking is difficult, so ask your doctor what programs they recommend. A good first call is 800-QUIT-NOW, a CDC resource that offers free coaching, stop plans, and educational materials.
Or check out ALA’s Freedom From Smoking Program, a seven-week clinic (in person or online) that walks you through the step-by-step process of quitting smoking.
People with COPD should also try to avoid second-hand smoke (the smoke that comes from the end of a lit cigarette or pipe, or that has been exhaled by a person who smokes), as well as third-hand smoke. , which refers to the smell of smoke left behind on surfaces such as clothes, carpets and in cars, says Aboussouan.
11. Use Your Inhaler Correctly
Regular and correct use of inhaled medications helps control COPD symptoms and makes breathing easier.
But there are many different types of inhalers, and each requires a different technique.
Symptoms of COPD can actually get worse if you don’t take your medications correctly, says Robert A. Wise, MD, medical director of the lung function lab at the Johns Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center in Baltimore.
To make sure you’re using your inhaler the right way – and that the right dose of medicine is reaching your lungs – it’s a good idea to periodically review your technique with your doctor, says Dr Wise.
“A lot of times if someone gets worse, it’s not about changing the medication, but rather making sure they are using their inhaler correctly,” he adds.
12. Increase Your COPD Knowledge
Learning more about COPD and how your lungs work can help you better understand and manage your condition, Beuther explains.
If possible, take advantage of pulmonary rehabilitation programs offered by your local hospital or respiratory center.
You can find free or low cost classes on good nutrition and exercises you can do to improve lung function and increase energy, as well as the correct way to take your COPD medication.
Another good resource is ALA’s Better Breathers Club program, which connects people living with lung disease to COPD education, support and peer support communities across the country.