Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can make breathing extremely difficult, and flare-ups can lead to hospitalizations. Many COPD exacerbations have unknown causes, but a substantial amount are instigated by air pollution, infections, smoking and improper use of inhaled medications. Fortunately, there are ways to help limit flare-ups and maintain good quality of life.
Air pollution and infections are common causes of exacerbations. Be sure to monitor air quality reports and avoid spending time outdoors when reports are bad.
To maintain a healthy immune system, follow a physician-approved diet and exercise plan. Exercise and healthy eating will help prevent infection, improve oxygenation and decrease risks of developing other chronic diseases.
Avoid caffeine and foods that are high-salt, high-fat and cause gas and bloating. These foods can make COPD symptoms worse.
Smoking cessation is another crucial step in COPD management. Smoking damages both the airways and the air sacs and leads to impaired gas exchange between the lungs and the blood. Ultimately, it reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues and vital organs, and increases work of breathing. Smokers and individuals exposed to secondhand smoke tend to experience exacerbations of COPD symptoms.
Understanding and complying with physician-prescribed medication regimes is equally as important as smoking cessation. Most prescription COPD medications are inhaled and are designed to help relax the airways and reduce inflammation and mucous production in the lungs. This improves breathing and helps reduce the risk of lung infections and flare-ups. These medications are effective only if used properly and as prescribed.
Stress and anxiety can trigger COPD exacerbations, as well. Stress causes the body's breathing muscles to tense and tire out quickly. This makes breathing substantially more difficult, and can create a sense of panic and anxiety. Finding ways to relax and unwind is an important step in managing chronic lung disease.
Overall, the best way to manage COPD is to fully understand it. Be informed, understand and avoid triggers for exacerbation, follow a physician-approved diet and exercise plan, take time to unwind, use prescribed medication properly and understand why you are taking it and how it will improve your symptoms.
Jessica Jackson is a registered respiratory therapist at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation.