Have you ever had trouble catching your breath after walking up the stairs, or noticed a tightness in your chest after waking up in the morning? How about playing hide-and-seek with your grandkids and losing the game when your whistling breathing gave you away?
These symptoms may be a sign of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD includes lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which causes damage to lung tissue, resulting in airflow and breathing-related problems over time.
Currently, there is no known cure for COPD, but there are ways to treat, manage, and live with the disease. Receiving a diagnosis of COPD might be alarming at first, but think of it this way: identifying the problem can help you start treatment and feel better. Read on to learn the signs and symptoms of COPD and how you can help treat it.
How to Know if You Have COPD
Time for an honest conversation: COPD is usually caused by smoking, though there can be other factors at play too. Exposure to air pollutants in the home and workplace, genetic factors and respiratory infections have also been shown to play a role in the development of COPD.
If you are or have ever been a smoker, you are at risk for developing COPD. Additionally, exposure to secondhand smoke can put someone at risk for developing COPD. Whether you or a loved one is at risk for COPD, it’s important to look out for the early signs of COPD. Talk to a healthcare provider if you notice symptoms that include:
- A “smoker’s cough” that doesn’t seem to go away
- A whistling sound (wheezing) when you breathe
- Shortness of breath, especially when doing physical activity
- Tightness in your chest
Once COPD has been diagnosed, you and your doctor can select the best treatment options to manage your COPD. Have an honest conversation with your doctor to explain what you are feeling.
How to Treat COPD
Of the 15 million adults in the United States with COPD, 39 percent continue to smoke. The best way to slow the progression of COPD is to quit smoking. Continuing to smoke will cause your lungs to get worse than if you were to stop smoking. If you’re ready to quit smoking, check out the tools, resources and support you can get from the Quitter’s Circle Community.
Besides quitting smoking, there are other actions you can take that may help you manage the disease, slow its progression, and live an active lifestyle. Talk to a healthcare provider to learn about treatment options that are right for you. Your doctor may recommend a combination of treatment, including but not limited to: A bronchodilator to relax the muscles around the airways and open them up, a steroid drug to reduce swelling in the airways, antibiotics to help with a potential infection, and supplemental oxygen therapy as needed.
Ask questions and for clarification to help understand how each of these options could help you. Besides medication, managing COPD also comes with lifestyle changes that may help you keep active and stay healthy. These can include:
- Pulmonary rehab classes to help build up exercise tolerance
- Nutrition counseling
- Support groups that can also provide advice and inspiration for ways to deal with COPD
- Flu shots and vaccines to help prevent respiratory infections
- Breathing and energy conservation strategies
With COPD, it’s important to be honest with others and with yourself. Let your loved ones know when you’re not feeling your best or might need to sit out of an activity. Check in with your doctor regularly – don’t wait for symptoms to get worse to take action.
Lifestyle Changes for Dealing with COPD
COPD can affect you in little ways throughout your day – some people with COPD have trouble eating or walking up the stairs because of shortness of breath or tiredness. There are ways to adjust your lifestyle so that you can go about your day comfortably. For example, if you are having trouble eating, try following a meal plan of eating smaller, more frequent meals, or resting before eating.
COPD can be serious, but know that quitting smoking is optimal for managing the disease. Don't delay: talk to your doctor about the signs of COPD.