COPD Awareness – Tips for Breathing Easier

November is COPD Awareness Month—Tips for Breathing Easier

Man Coughing

By Alicia Schwartz, RN, VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans

November is National COPD Awareness Month, and according to the COPD Foundation, there are 24 million chronic obstructive pulmonary disease sufferers in the U.S., but fewer than half are aware they have the disease. Talk to your doctor if your think you might be at risk, or visit www.copdfoundation.org to take a one-minute online COPD Population screener. Even if you or a loved one have been diagnosed with COPD, the whole family may be breathing uneasily because prognosis can be difficult to gauge.

The two most common forms of COPD are chronic bronchitis, in which the airways leading to the lungs become inflamed and partially blocked due to swelling, and emphysema, in which the air sacs in the lungs are damaged and trap air. When the lungs have trouble getting air, a number of symptoms can occur, including: difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing or coughing, weakness, exhaustion, weight loss, or bluish lips and skin. You may also get more frequent colds or chest infections.

COPD can’t be cured, but it can be managed, especially if treatment is started before the disease reaches an advanced stage. Quitting smoking (the leading cause of COPD) is the best thing you can do if you’re diagnosed with COPD. It is also important to avoid second-hand smoke. Your doctor can also prescribe medications—including long-term and quick-acting treatments, and can a home health professional can demonstrate proper use of an inhaler.

Do not stop your treatment because you are feeling better, and always carry the quick-acting inhaler wherever you go. It will help to get tested for allergies so that you know specifically what irritates your lungs, and take steps to limit respiratory irritants such as dust and pet hair at home. Many doctors recommend diet modifications as well to help keep COPD patients on a path to better health.

The good news is that by following your doctor’s treatment regimen, you can manage your symptoms, slow the disease’s progression, prevent complications (such as respiratory infections, malnutrition, and depression), and enhance the quality of your life and health. Your goal is to feel and function at your best, given your condition. Once your treatment is launched, your doctor will want to see you regularly to find out how well the medications you’re taking and the lifestyle modifications you’ve made are relieving your breathing troubles. To that end, your doctor will likely measure how well your lungs are functioning through spirometry, a simple breathing test that gauges how much air your lungs can hold and the speed of inhalations and exhalations. Your doctor may also order a chest X-ray or CT scan, if symptoms worsen.

For more information about VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans from the not-for-profit Visiting Nurse Service of New York, please call 1-888-867-6555 or visit www.VNSNYCHOICE.org.