Living with COPD: Understanding and Managing the Condition

[fa icon="calendar"] Jul 27, 2015 8:00:17 PM / by Jack Maloney

What you can do to improve quality of life for yourself or a loved one suffering with COPD.

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a combination of ailments that affect the lungs. Because this condition affects airflow, people with COPD will find it difficult to breathe. While it generally starts with mild symptoms, COPD gets progressively worse and can affect quality of life for you or a loved one.

Symptoms of COPD

While these symptoms develop slowly, they can be exacerbated under certain circumstances and become worse than normal. The most common symptoms include:

  • A persistent cough that may produce phlegm; “smoker’s cough”
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Shortness of breath that worsens with even mild activity (dyspnea)
  • A blue tinge in the skin, called cyanosis, that’s particularly apparent in lips and fingernail beds
  • Wheezing
  • Chest Tightness
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss, generally in later stages

Types of COPD

There are two main types of COPD: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The majority of people suffering from COPD will have both of these conditions. COPD also includes non-reversible refractory asthma and some forms of bronchiectasis, an abnormal scarring of the airways.


Inside the lungs are little air sacs called alveoli. In emphysema, the alveoli become damaged and lose their elasticity. It’s also possible for the walls of the alveoli to rupture, which reduces the overall surface area of the lung, affecting the amount of oxygen that can enter the bloodstream and the amount of carbon dioxide that can be exhaled.

Chronic Bronchitis

This condition affects the lining of the breathing tubes, which become irritated and inflamed. Eventually the airway lining thickens and starts producing a lot of phlegm, which interferes with normal breathing.

Causes of COPD

While the majority of people diagnosed with COPD are over 40 and have a history of smoking, and despite the fact that smoking contributes to up to 90% of deaths related to COPD, people who have never smoked may also develop COPD.

  • Smoking or long-term exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Indoor / outdoor air pollution
  • Asthma
  • Frequent respiratory infections, especially during childhood
  • Prolonged or excessive exposure to dust and chemical fumes, usually on the job

Treating COPD

While there is no cure for COPD, there is a lot you, your doctor and caretaker can do to relieve the symptoms and improve quality of life.

  • Identify triggers that worsen the condition and take steps to avoid or eliminate them from the home. Common lung irritants include smoke, dust, fumes and airborne toxins
  • Quit smoking if you have not already done so
  • Use the inhalers prescribed by your physician to keep the airways open
  • Consider pulmonary rehabilitation, which can teach you to breathe more efficiently
  • Undergo oxygen therapy, where oxygen is supplied through an air tank and delivered through a mask or nasal prongs

If you’re caring for a loved one suffering from COPD, there are things you can do as well:

  • Avoid wearing heavily-scented beauty products like perfumes, lotions, cologne and hair spray
  • Depending on how severe your loved one’s COPD is, you can join them in low-level exercise programs that teach them how to breathe efficiently. People with COPD will feel better and stay stronger with regular exercise. If this is simply not an option, bring fun games to play to alleviate the boredom of minimal physical activity. Cards, Scrabble, jigsaw puzzles and Yahtzee are all good ideas.
  • Learn what to do during a breathing emergency so you can remain calm and assist your loved one during a crisis
  • Prepare healthy meals and snacks to bring to your loved one, as maintaining their health and energy is an important part of managing this condition.
  • Create a comfy space that allows your loved one to conserve his or her energy. Organize his or her belongings in a downstairs area that he or she can easily access. Arrange items at arms’ length so he or she doesn’t have to reach for them. Find a comfy shower chair to put inside the shower.
  • Give your loved one a hand-held fan. Some people with COPD find that a fan blowing air directly on their face helps them breathe easier.
  • Transition to non-toxic cleaning products that won’t exacerbate your loved one’s symptoms and always make sure you properly ventilate the home when you clean.
  • Hire an in-home health aide who can assist your loved one whenever they need it.

FirstLantic’s home healthcare aides understand COPD and have the necessary training to help your loved one manage the condition. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, give us a call and let us help you find a solution that works for you and your loved one.

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Topics: Main Blog, Support Their Health, COPD

Written by Jack Maloney

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