CommandCare Blog

Stay up-to-date with blog posts about the latest healthcare topics, data, and interviews.

CommandCare blog image

Managing COPD

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) affects 30 million Americans and over half of them have symptoms of COPD and do not know it. The disease is a group of respiratory conditions, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The condition is primarily characterized by difficulty breathing, lung airflow limitations, and cough. While there is no cure for COPD, it may be managed through a combination of medication and lifestyle changes.

How to manage COPD

There are a number of different ways to help manage COPD.

Exercise: While it may seem counter-intuitive to exercise while suffering from a breathing problem, exercise can help manage your COPD symptoms. When someone is diagnosed with COPD, they suffer from shortness of breath. As a result, they will tend to be less active, which over time becomes a terrible cycle of losing fitness due to lack of exercise.

Speak to your doctor about starting a simple exercise plan. Your exercise time and effort should gradually increase over time. Exercise cannot reverse lung disease, but it can reverse the de-conditioning that comes from COPD and improve your quality of life.

Plan and prepare a healthy diet: People with COPD often lose weight and can even become malnourished, as it is a hypermetabolic disease. Make sure you eat sitting up. When you eat lying down, you are putting more pressure on the lungs, which will further compromise breathing. Eat smaller meals more often, which will prevent pressure on the diaphragm. Also, try to avoid drinking during your meal so you won't fill up too fast and miss out on important nutrients. Additionally, avoid food like broccoli and cabbage. While these foods are very good for you, they can cause gas, which can lead to bloating. This type of bloat will make breathing more difficult.

It may seem like you have limitations, however, you can still enjoy tasty and healthy foods and get all the vitamins and nutrients you need. Eat a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, and meats. Foods high in antioxidants, like berries and nuts, may be especially helpful, as research suggests these foods may be beneficial to lung health.

Medications: There are several medications available to help treat COPD. Some medications are taken daily to help keep patients breathing well. These are known as controller medications. Other medications, known as fast acting or rescue medications help to manage breathing issues that occur quickly. A rescue medication should not be needed on a daily basis. If that is happening, it is very possible daily controller medications may need to be changed.

Oxygen therapy: If a patient with COPD has trouble getting enough oxygen into their bloodstream, they may benefit from oxygen therapy. This type of therapy will be prescribed by a doctor and will specify what type of oxygen system should be used, how many liters per minute (lpm) of oxygen are needed and how many hours per day oxygen should be used.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation: Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program of exercise, education, and support to teach you how to breathe and function as best as possible. A pulmonary rehabilitation plan is developed by a team of specialists that will help manage the disease so you can stay as active as possible.

Breathing exercises: Just like you can slowly do “traditional” exercise to help stay healthy, you can also do breathing exercises to keep your lungs as healthy as possible. Pursed-lips Breathing and Diaphragmatic (also called Belly or Abdominal) Breathing will help get the air you need without working too hard.

Air quality: There are a lot of different steps you can take to improve the air quality in your home. First, if you are still smoking; quit. And don’t allow others to smoke in your home. Allergens and irritants are not helpful when battling COPD. Make sure to dust regularly, remove clutter, and keep floors and carpets clean. Avoid using strong-smelling cleaning products and furniture stain. Ventilate your home regularly by opening windows whenever possible and use exhaust fans when you can’t. Have your air conditioner checked regularly for mold and moisture and change air filters on a regular basis. Finally, think about installing an air filtration system to help keep indoor air as clean as possible.

Home Therapy

An in-home therapist can help administer respiratory treatments, which will help make the patient more comfortable. Additionally, any time a treatment can be administered at home, the patient will be more at ease. When a patient is newly diagnosed, an LPN or RN can help with reinforcing proper care and education of suggested lifestyle changes. Additionally, a home health aide can help with day-to-day activities, such as personal care and light housework. This will help keep a patient at home and allow them to maintain their independence while adjusting to their “new normal” as a COPD patient.


There are a number of resources beyond a physician available to help you as a patient as well as your family and caregivers.

COPD Foundation: The COPD Foundation works to expand COPD services and improve the lives of individuals affected by COPD. The Foundation’s activities focus on research, education and advocacy programs that will lead to prevention and work to find a cure for this disease.

American Lung Association: The American Lung Association focuses on healthy lungs and healthy air. Their focus today is on eliminating tobacco use and related lung disease, improving overall air quality for all. The Lung Association offers specific information about COPD, including how to help manage the disease and patient support.

Centers for Disease Control: One of the major operating components of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control (commonly known as the “CDC”) works to protect Americans from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the United States. Their website offers a variety of information on COPD in both English and Spanish.


According to the COPD Foundation, a total of 6.3% of the United States population has COPD. Kentucky has the highest percentage of residents with COPD at 9.3%. While there is no cure, it is important to remember that a lot can be done to help manage the disease. There are a number of ways to support a patient and their families through medication, educational resources, and in-home therapies

Staff Writer, Deirdre Conboy-Mariotti, RN BSN