For millions of Americans diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the first question to their doctor may be, “How long do I have?”
Coping with COPD symptoms and living well may seem nearly impossible. COPD causes shortness of breath, fatigue, wheezing and persistent coughing.
Often, people with COPD need to use supplemental oxygen to ensure they receive enough oxygen. With so much to manage, it’s understandable to feel frustrated and overwhelmed.
Alternative treatment options exist, but there are a variety of factors to consider, including one’s genetic history, lifestyle habits–especially whether they exercise or smoke–environmental surroundings and whether they have a healthy diet.
To help you sort things out, we’ve put together these 5 Tips to Improve COPD Life Expectancy.
1. Avoid Lung Irritants and COPD Triggers
One key tip for managing your COPD symptoms and living well is to avoid lung irritants and COPD triggers. Some of the most common COPD triggers include indoor and outdoor allergens, cigarette smoke, second-hand smoke and infections.
Quitting smoking is one of the most important changes you can make. Smoking is the number one cause of COPD. Cigarette smoke contains tar and various toxic chemicals. These chemicals irritate the lungs, damaging the cilia or tiny hairs that clean the airways.
Second-hand smoke also irritates the lungs and can change how the lungs and airways work. Do not allow smoking in your home. If someone wants to smoke, ask him or her to smoke outside and away from windows and doors.
Indoor and outdoor allergens can trigger COPD symptoms. Keeping your home clean and staying aware of the outdoor air quality are important. If the outdoor air quality is poor, consider staying inside.
Before going outside, be sure to check your local outdoor air quality report.
2. Improve Indoor Air Quality
If the indoor air quality is poor, managing COPD symptoms and living well can be more challenging. Sources of indoor air pollution include chemical cleaning products, allergens, mold, building materials and combustion sources like tobacco smoke, gas and furnaces.
Drapes, carpets and bedding hold allergens like dust and pet dander. Vacuuming the carpet regularly helps lessen these allergens.
Washing drapery on a regular basis also helps reduce allergens.
To decrease allergens in your bedroom, keep pets out and wash the bedding in hot water weekly. Place your mattress and pillows in dust-mite-proof zippered cases.
Fumes from cleaning products can worsen COPD symptoms. Some products release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can irritate the eyes and throat, causing headaches and worsening COPD symptoms.
Try keeping your home clean with non-toxic, fragrance-free cleaning products. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists products that meet its Safer Choice requirements.
Consider cleaning with hydrogen peroxide, warm water, soap, baking soda and vinegar.
If you decide to cleanse the air in your home, air purifiers with HEPA filters as well as natural air purifiers work to improve the quality of indoor air. Keep your windows closed and air conditioning on during days of high outdoor pollution.
3. Change Your Diet
Certain foods can worsen COPD symptoms. These foods include cold cuts, excessive salt, dairy products, cruciferous vegetables, fried foods, sodas, carbonated drinks and acidic foods.
Having the right diet for you and your lungs can make coping with COPD symptoms and living well easier.
Cured meats or cold cuts, contain additives called nitrates. Nitrates help extend shelf life and add color. Salt can make people retain water, and excess water can cause breathing problems. Try using herbs and spices to season your food instead.
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, contribute to gas and bloating, making breathing difficult for people with COPD. Dairy products can increase mucus, and carbonated drinks and acidic foods contribute to unwanted acid reflux and bloating.
In addition to avoiding certain foods, try COPD-friendly foods, such as baked meats seasoned with herbs and spices. Steamed vegetables like carrots, peas and green beans are full of nutrients but won’t cause gas and bloating.
When you’re thirsty, drink water, and avoid the excessive calories and bloating of carbonated beverages.
4. Get Active
It may seem counter-intuitive, but staying active and getting plenty of exercises helps people with COPD stay healthier.
Because cardio-aerobic exercise stimulates increased blood flow, it allows your heart to pump more blood, which helps improve blood oxygen levels.
You can also gain more strength and stamina when you exercise. Exercise capacity is a key element in the COPD stages, and knowing your exercise tolerance helps doctors determine your stage of COPD.
Walking, yoga and tai chi are types of gentle exercises that many people can do. Keep in mind that it takes time to improve your stamina, so start slow. Consider inviting a friend to walk or exercise with you.
Before starting or changing an exercise plan, ask your doctor about what types of exercise and what intensities of exercise are best for you.
5. Move Forward With Your Doctor
Working with your doctor is essential regarding COPD symptoms and living well. You and your doctor will work together to develop the best treatment plan for you.
Remember to see your doctor regularly even if you’re feeling well. Your doctor will keep track of your COPD symptoms, changes in your pulmonary health and your overall health.
Your doctor may recommend lung function tests, such as a pulmonary function test or a 6-minute walk test. These types of tests will help your doctor categorize your COPD into stages. They also aid your doctor in developing a treatment plan.
COPD treatments include medications, inhalers, oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation. These types of treatment work to manage COPD symptoms.
Christine Kingsley, APRN is the Health and Wellness Director at the Lung Institute where she focuses on providing helpful online resources for people looking for information on various lung diseases, breathing exercises, and healthy lifestyle choices. She advocates for holistic care that involves working with your doctor to explore all options including traditional and alternative care while focusing on diet and exercise as proactive measures.