Nearly 25 million Americans have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed, you may struggle with more than catching your breath.
A COPD diagnosis can be overwhelming. You likely have a lot of questions about how to manage the disease, what to expect and how to recognize signs that it’s progressing. While there is no cure for COPD or treatment that reverses its progression, there are ways to manage its symptoms. Here are two steps to help you or your loved one cope with COPD.
Step 1: Manage COPD symptoms
Work closely with your care team on a treatment plan to help minimize COPD symptoms. You or your loved one may be asked to:
- Quit smoking. Quit smoking immediately and remember that your care team can help. There are many tools and resources to make quitting easier.
- Avoid lung irritants. Avoid being around other smokers and stay away from places with chemical fumes or heavy dust. Check air quality often and stay inside on days quality is low.
- Eat healthy. COPD and its symptoms, including shortness of breath and fatigue, can make eating difficult. Try eating smaller, more frequent meals.
- Follow exercise recommendations. Staying active can be difficult with COPD, but it’s a big part of staying healthy and strong. Ask your doctor about activity and exercise limits and be sure to follow recommendations.
- Take medicines as directed. It’s extremely important to take medicines as directed to help manage symptoms and reduce the chance of an exacerbation. These medicines can include a bronchodilator, which helps relax the airway, or a combination of a bronchodilator and steroids. A rescue inhaler may also be needed in case of an emergency. If given a rescue inhaler, you or your loved one should keep it with you at all times.
- Get a flu shot. For COPD sufferers, symptoms and complications from common illnesses like influenza (the flu) and pneumonia, can be much more severe and increase the risk of hospitalization. You or your loved one should get an annual flu shot and stay up-to-date with the pneumococcal vaccine.
Step 2: Make a plan
COPD is a chronic disease. It will not go away and will only worsen over time. It’s important to plan for the future and know what to do in case of an emergency.
Know when to seek immediate care.
Complications, such as an illness or infection, can cause COPD to quickly worsen. It’s important to understand when it’s appropriate to call your doctor and when the need is more urgent. Know where to go for care and keep emergency medicines and numbers nearby - you may need to act quickly.
Plan for the future.
As COPD progresses, symptoms will worsen. Work with your care team and loved ones to have a plan in place before that happens. Ask each other:
- Will it be possible to stay at home?
- What care will be needed and where is the best place to receive it?
- What is most important during treatment of advanced COPD?
- Do you have a living will in place so others understand your choices?
- Do you know at what stage you wish treatment to be discontinued?
Managing COPD and its symptoms every day can be difficult and so is caring for someone with the disease. Have open conversation to prepare for the future. It can help reduce stress and anxiety over what tomorrow may hold.
You can learn more about the short- and long-term, skilled nursing and rehabilitation care available at Heartland-ManorCare, including our experienced pulmonary team. We offer many care options for COPD sufferers as well as support for caregivers.
For more information on our pulmonary care and rehabilitation services, and to learn more about care options, find the center nearest you at heartland-manorcare.com.