Out of breath, but not out!
How to live better with COPD
This means that you need long-term treatment for a disease which is causing some blockage in your lungs.
This blockage is in the air tubes which carry air in and out of your lungs. Your air tubes have become narrower, so the amount of air that can go in is much less. Also, air cannot get out of your lungs properly. Because of this your lungs feel very full, your chest feels tight, and you feel short of breath.
- COPD is not an infectious disease. That means it is not caused by germs. So other people cannot "catch" COPD from you.
- Children do not get COPD. People who get COPD are usually over 40. But you can also get it when you are younger than 40, especially if you are a smoker.
- Smoking is definitely the most common cause of COPD. Most people who have COPD are smokers. Or they used to smoke but even though they have stopped- they may have already damaged their lungs. Even people who do not smoke can suffer if they keep breathing in someone else's smoke.
- Sometimes even people who do not smoke can get COPD if they are exposed to things that damage their lungs. For example, constant exposure to fumes from cooking stoves ("chula") or room heaters ("sigri") can cause it. That is how many women get COPD.
- Also, those who have worked for many years in places where the air is very dusty, smoky or polluted like coal mines and industries such as cement, textiles, chemicals and electro-plating of jewellery.
- People who have asthma can get COPD if their asthma is not treated properly.
You will understand your condition better if you know how your lungs work.
When you breathe, air goes into your lungs through the airways which are like tubes. These tubes carry air from your nose and mouth into your lungs.
When you get COPD, the airways in your lungs become narrower. The amount of air that can pass through is much less, so it cannot come out of your lungs properly. Because of the trapped air, your lungs feel very full. Your whole chest feels tight and you feel short of breath. These are called the symptoms of COPD.
Even if you have started feeling these symptoms only recently, don't ignore them. The earlier you start treatment, the better you can control COPD.
The doctor will examine you and ask about your breathing problem and your general health, also about your home and the places where you have worked.
You may have to do some breathing tests with the help of an instrument called a spirometer. These tests are useful for knowing whether your COPD is mild, moderate or severe.
Mild means that your COPD is not too bad.
Moderate means that your COPD is getting bad.
Severe means that your COPD is very bad.
- You may cough a lot. Sometimes you cough out mucus.
- You feel a little out of breath if you work hard or walk fast.
- You may cough more, and you cough out mucus.
- You often feel out of breath if you work hard or walk fast.
- You may have trouble doing physical work or housework. You may have to do these things slower than other people.
- You may take several weeks to recover from a cold or chest infection.
- You may cough even more, and you cough out a lot of mucus.
- You have trouble breathing during the day and at night.
- You may take several weeks to recover from a cold or chest infection.
- You can no longer go to work or do housework.
- You cannot climb stairs or even walk across a room very well.
- You get tired with even the smallest effort, or even when you are resting.
With the latest treatment which is very effective, you will feel better and be able to do more:
- You will able to breathe more comfortably.
- You will cough less.
- You will sleep better, feel more fit, and you will be able to move around more easily.
- You will be in a better mood, and you will feel more confident about making adjustments in your daily life.
Many things! First of all, your attitude of winning against COPD will help you even at those times when you don't feel so good.
Now here are some specific things you can do:
If You are a Smoker, Stop Smoking. It is the most Important Thing You can do to Help Your Lungs
- Your condition will get worse faster if you smoke even just two cigarettes a day. Cigarette smoke irritates your lungs and makes the airways get narrower and produce excess mucus which blocks them up. Smoking also interferes with the ability of your blood to carry oxygen which is vital for your body.
- You can stop smoking even if you have been smoking for a long time.
- If you feel that your willpower is not enough, you can ask your doctor for advice. Your doctor may recommend pills to help you stop smoking.
- Set a definite date when you will stop. Tell your family and friends in advance that you are trying to stop. Keep cigarettes out of your house. Do not permit smoking in your home. Remove all ashtrays. Stay away from the places and people that make you want to smoke.
- Keep yourself busy. Keep your hands busy. Whenever you feel like picking up a cigarette, pick up a pencil or something else instead.
- If you feel an urge to smoke, chew some chewing gum. Eat fresh fruits or vegetables. Drink a lot of water every day.
- If you start smoking again, don't give up on your goal! Try to stop again. Some people have to try stopping many times before they stop permanently.
Take Medicine Exactly the way Your Doctor says you Should Take It
- Go for your medical check-ups on the dates your doctor tells you. Go to see your doctor at least twice a year, even if you are feeling OK.
- You should write down the name of each medicine, how much to take, and when to take it. You can use the table below to write the details, and then ask your doctor to confirm that you have got it right.
- Medicines that make the airways wider are called bronchodilators. These medicines act by preventing and reversing the tightening of the small muscles around the air tubes in your lungs. That is how they relieve your symptoms and help you to breathe more easily.
- Bronchodilator medicines come in many forms such as pills, syrups, and inhalers. Some of the latest medicines for COPD are given by inhalers.
- There are various types of inhalers. The two most widely used types are: the Rotahaler and the Metered Dose Inhaler which is also called Spray Inhaler. If your doctor tells you to use inhaled medicines, he will prescribe the type of inhaler which is most suitable for you. Learning how to use an inhaler is not difficult. In fact, with a little practice you can use the inhaler as simply as taking pills or syrups.
- Every time you go to your doctor for a check-up, take your list of medicines, or the actual medicines, with you.
- Talk to your doctor about how your medicines make you feel. The doctor may adjust your treatment accordingly.
- Talk to your family about your treatment and how you feel. Keep your medicines and your instructions for how to use them where everyone can find them easily.
- The best reason to be regular with your treatment and keep your COPD under control is that you can avoid expensive hospitalization.
Try to Keep the Air Clean in Your Home. Stay Away from Smoke and any Kind of Fumes and Strong Smells
- If your house is being pest-controlled or painted, try to stay away.
- If you do the cooking for your family, keep the kitchen door or window open. This allows fumes and strong smells e.g. masala, to get out easily. An exhaust fan will help to keep the air clean.
- If you have a stove or "chula" which uses wood or kerosene fuel, keep a door or window open to let the fumes go out.
- On days where there is a lot of pollution or dust outside, stay at home and keep the windows closed.
Keep Your Body as Healthy and as Strong as Possible
- Eat healthy food. Maintain the right weight. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Eat protein-rich foods. Some examples of vegetarian protein-rich foods are milk, soya, dal and pulses. Some examples of non-vegetarian protein-rich foods are meat, fish and eggs.
- If you become breathless while eating, eat slowly. Talk less while you are eating.
- If the usual meals make you feel too full, eat smaller amounts but more frequently.
- If you are heavy, try to lose weight. It is harder to breathe and move around if you are overweight.
If you are too thin, take extra food or nourishing drinks to help you gain weight and stay healthy.
Drink lots of fluids such as water and juice. This helps to make the mucus ("balgam", "kuff") in your lungs thinner, so that you can cough it out easily.
- Do breathing exercises. The instructions on page 21 will help you.
- Ask your doctor which breathing exercises can help you. The exercises shown on page 21 will help to make your chest muscles stronger so that you can breathe more easily.
- Take some light exercise regularly. Walking is good for you.
- Try to walk for at least 20 minutes every day. Start slowly. If you feel breathless, stop and rest.
- You can ask your doctor to recommend other exercises for you. Find exercises which you like to do. Ask a family member or a friend to join you. Having good company makes everything go better!
- Make your daily life as easy as possible. Avoid physical and mental strain.
Of course you should do as much you can on your own. But do them slowly, and do things sitting down if possible. If your COPD is bad, you should ask those who are close to you to help.
In the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, put things which you need often in a place that is easy to reach.
Find simpler ways to cook, clean and do other housework. If you need to get something which is at a height, ask someone to get it down for you.
Wear loose clothes so you can breathe freely. Choose clothes and shoes that are easy to put on and take off.
If Your COPD is Very Bad, Your Doctor may Advise You to Take Oxygen at Home, as Part of the Treatment
If you have been hospitalized for COPD, you may have been given oxygen in the hospital to help your lungs to breathe better.
If your doctor prescribes oxygen for you to take at home, you will need to make arrangements for an oxygen cylinder or an oxygen concentrator. Your doctor will advise you how to go about this.
If Breathing becomes Very Difficult, It Could be an Emergency. Go To Your Doctor or a Hospital Straight Away
Get emergency help if you notice any of these danger signs:
- It is hard to talk.
- It is hard to walk.
- Lips or fingernails turn grey or blue.
- The heartbeat or pulse is very fast or irregular.
- The medicine does not help for very long, or it does not help at all, and even after taking it, breathing is still fast and hard.
- Always keep handy the phone numbers of the doctor and hospital, and people who can take you there. Write those numbers here so that other people can find them easily.
Inhale slowly through your nose until your lungs are full of air.
Purse your lips as if you are going to whistle. Now exhale slowly.
- Breathing out should take twice as long as breathing in.
- Do not force your lungs to become empty.
- Repeat the above procedure three times and then take a little rest.
- This exercise can be done many times a day.
Living with COPD is a challenge, but at the same time it doesn't mean giving up on everything. It just means making changes in the way you do things, so that you can feel better and be more active.
Look forward to the benefits of your treatment and the effective new medicines that are available today.
Remember, the most important thing about living with COPD is living with determination.
Suggested websites for patients to know more about COPD