Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. There's no cure for COPD, and you can't undo damage to your lungs. If you are one of the 12 million people diagnosed with it, here are some steps to help you breathe easier, stay active and feel better:
Stub out cigarettes for good. Smoking is why most people develop COPD in the first place; quitting is the most important way to keep it from getting worse. For help, call 800-QUIT-NOW or visit smokefree.gov.
Keep indoor air clean. Dust, fumes from cleaning products, bug sprays and paint, and second-hand smoke all irritate your lungs and increase breathing problems. Run the exhaust fan to help ventilate your home, minimize clutter and vacuum often (to cut down dust), kick smokers to the curb, and keep windows closed when outdoor air pollution is high (for real-time air quality reports, go to airnow.gov).
Schedule frequent checkups. COPD is a progressive disease, which means it gets worse over time. Regular visits are important so your doctor can monitor your current COPD medications and consider new options. Just last month, for example, the FDA approved a drug to reduce flare-ups and symptoms in some patients. He may also discuss different therapies (such as pulmonary rehabilitation or oxygen treatment); talk to you about getting vaccinated for the flu or pneumonia (both of which can cause complications); and keep an eye on your overall health - recent studies shows COPD raises your risk of shingles and heart disease.
Eat less, more often. Plan for four to six smaller meals instead of two or three larger ones - that's because a belly that's too full can press up into the space that your diaphragm needs for breathing. Don't drink too much during meals for the same reason, but be sure to stay well-hydrated during the day: COPD causes mucus to thicken and build in the lungs; fluids can help keep it thin and make it easier to clear.
Conserve energy. The more tired you feel, the harder it is to breathe. Small adjustments, like storing often-used objects in easier-to-reach places, using a wheeled cart to move things around, even sitting down while you shave or dry your hair, can help keep energy up.
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