A Physician's Prescription for COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the more general term for what your parents knew about lung disease—they called it emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD creates progressive airflow problems in your lungs, making it harder to breathe; it also causes increased inflammation, leading to increased mucus production and risk of infection. People usually start off with mild symptoms, like shortness of breath, cough, etc., but can have horrible COPD flare-ups, resulting in frequent doctor visits, the need for oxygen and even hospitalization.
The most common cause of COPD is related to tobacco smoking and second-hand smoke. We realize that tobacco addiction is a hard habit to kick, but we want to try to help. There are many resources out there to help you or a loved one stop smoking. There are even medications that can curb the cravings you have for tobacco. Just ask for help—we can make a plan.
There are some instances in which COPD does not relate to tobacco. These are mostly caused by some type of chemical exposure brought on by where you work or live. Avoiding fumes, vapors or irritants is important to control COPD.
When my patients exercise, my job gets a lot easier. During the early and middle stages of COPD, regular exercise can increase your lung strength and endurance; plus, it can help your body understand how to compensate for COPD changes in your lungs. Exercise also helps a myriad of other health problems, like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, fatigue, sleep, etc. I recommend exercising just 20-30 minutes a day, most days of the week (I usually tell my patients 4-5 days). Walking and using a stationary bike are two great ways to get healthy aerobic exercise in your routine.
Unfortunately, at more advanced stages of COPD, breathing is difficult even with small daily tasks. We encourage everyone at any stage of COPD to be as active as they can. Exercise requires no prescription and is virtually free if you have access to a safe neighborhood or indoor mall.
Doctors figure out if you have COPD by performing a lung function test. This is not an invasive test, but it gives a lot of information about how your body breathes. From this information, we can decide if and when inhalers will be right for you.
There are many different types of inhalers out there; they contain different ingredients, come in different shapes, and use different methods to help you inhale the medications. It is crucial to not leave a doctor’s office or a pharmacy without knowing how to use the inhalers that were prescribed to you. These inhalers are vital in improving your symptoms of shortness of breath and cough.
For most people, COPD can and will progress. The medications prescribed to you won’t cure the disease of COPD but will help you feel better and alleviate the symptoms you experience. You should always work with your doctor to make sure the treatments are working for you. The more you know about COPD, the more you will be able to manage the changes that come with it.