it. If you’re in the dark about your COPD – if you don’t understand what it is and what it means for you, you’re not doing yourself any favors. There’s a lot to learn when you have COPD, and there are many, many things you can do each day to breathe as well as possible, and stay as healthy and active as possible. But if I had to boil it down to the first five things your should know about COPD, here they are.
Know what you’re up against
If you think you might have COPD, ask your doctor about being tested. Then, if you find out you do, know that it’s important to learn what COPD is and how it affects your lungs. It helps to understand what’s going on in there. And once you do, you can begin to regain control of your breathing – and your life. Read about facing COPD and moving forward.
Understand how your medicines work
A homecare nurse once told me a story about one of her patients with COPD. She was about to end her visit when she saw from across the room a very large ashtray (yes, an ashtray!) filled to overflowing with a variety of inhalers. She asked her patient about the use of his inhalers, and he said, “Oh… when I feel tight I just take a couple puffs off this one and that one or another one until I start to feel better.”
Yikes! Not exactly what you’d call effective use of inhaled breathing medications!
When I ask patients what their inhalers do, they almost always respond by saying, “They open up my lungs.” Well, yes, that’s true, but what’s really important for all patients with COPD to know and understand is that there are different types of medicines that open the airways in different ways. Here’s an article explaining different types of breathing medications and how they work.
Learn and practice correct breathing techniques
“You mean you’re going to teach me how to breathe? What do you think I’ve been doing all my life?”
When you have COPD, changes take place in your lungs, causing you to breathe ineffectively. This can mean you’re working really hard to move air, using a whole lot of energy and oxygen when you don’t have a whole lot of energy and oxygen to spare. Once you learn the mechanics of why you can’t breathe, you’ll be better able to take action on how you can breathe better. Learning proper breathing techniques really does make a difference.
Know early warning signs to stay healthy
Frequent exacerbations (a sudden worsening of COPD symptoms that can lead to serious illness) are all too common in COPD. While those with healthy lungs can shake off a cold and get over it within a week, for you it can be a major illness – maybe even pneumonia. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
If you’re trying to ignore your COPD, you may be treating each exacerbation as an isolated case, just another “bout of bronchitis.” Doing so is treating symptoms – not treating COPD. Repeated exacerbations can cause further lung damage and a decline in overall health.