What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Your doctor may have diagnosed you with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Do you know what it is or may have caused this disease? Do you know what you can do to prevent more damage to your lungs and help you live a normal life? Just because you have COPD does not mean have to stay home. Live your life! I’m going to tell you how.

First, let’s understand COPD. COPD makes it hard for you to breathe. This is because your lungs have been damaged over many years. This can be caused by smoking, being exposed to fumes, air pollution or dust. (1) (2) You may have been told that you have chronic bronchitis or emphysema, which are lung diseases that are considered COPD diseases.


With COPD, you may have some of the following symptoms: a cough that lasts a long time (chronic), you become short of breath when you are doing exercise, mucus comes up when you cough (2) or blood, heaviness in your chest, wheezing, your ankles swell, or you have a hard time sleeping. (1)

Prevent Further Damage

Although you cannot reverse the damage done to the lungs, you can minimize the symptoms through treatment and prevent related illness, which can make your COPD worse.

The best, but perhaps not the easiest thing you can do is if you are a smoker is quit! You can prevent further damage from the cigarette smoke by quitting. And if you are on oxygen therapy, you cannot smoke while using this type of therapy.

You also need to keep healthy so that you do not make your COPD worse. Every year, ask your doctor for the flu and pneumococcal vaccines. You may still get sick, but they will prevent you from a serious illness. Regular exercise and a good diet will help you stay strong. If there is a high pollution warning in your area, stay indoors. Cold and dry air can also make it harder for you to breathe. You can also use an air filter in your home to minimize dust and pet dander.

Treatment for the Symptoms

Your doctor may prescribe a medication or a group of medications to help you breathe easier. Most of these medications are inhaled with the use of an inhaler. This brings the medication right to your lungs, where you need it. (2)

If your oxygen level is low, your doctor will prescribe oxygen therapy. At home, you can use an oxygen concentrator, which takes the oxygen from the air and concentrates it. The machine helps you get more oxygen into your lungs. This machine is too large to bring out with you, but that does not mean you have to stay home. There are portable oxygen concentrators that are small machines. You can wear and hold portable oxygen concentrators. These small machines run on batteries. Many also are able to be plugged in when you are in the car or near an electrical outlet. (3) So, if you are going to visit a friend, and you will be gone for longer than the battery life, you can plug it in once you arrive at your friend’s home.

You can do pursed lip breathing when are feeling short of breath. (4) To do this:

  1. Relax your neck and shoulders
  2. Take a breath in through your nose while keeping your mouth close for two seconds
  3. Breathe out for four seconds through pursed lips (keep lips tight like you are going to kiss someone, but leave your lips slightly open)

When diagnosed with COPD, you may have a lot to learn. But don’t stay indoors; learn what you can do to get out and enjoy life!

Laurie M. DeChello, MPH, CPH

Laurie has a Master’s degree in public health and has also been Certified in Public Health.

ASP does not provide medical advice. If you have questions about your illness or treatment, please contact your doctor.



Works Cited

1. Understanding and Treating COPD. WebMD. [Online] 2007. [Cited: May 21, 2012.] http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/living-with-copd-10/treatments-care.

2. COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) – Overview. WebMD. [Online] 2007. [Cited: May 21, 2012.] http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/tc/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-copd-overview.

3. COPD and Portable Oxygen Therapy. WebMD. [Online] 2010. [Cited: May 21, 2012.] http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/living-with-copd-10/oxygen-therapy?page=2.

4. Breathing With COPD. WebMD. [Online] 2009. [Cited: May 21, 2012.] http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/living-with-copd-10/breathing-exercises?page=2.


Laurie DeChello, MPH, CPH is the health educator and a co-owner of Altra Service Professionals, Inc. Laurie writes a health blog for the ASP website regarding issues related to respiratory illnesses and treatment. She is a certified technician repairing ventilators and sleep apnea equipment. She also assists in keeping the office running smoothly. Laurie previously taught courses in the health sciences with Kaplan University. She also taught public health courses at the University of Connecticut and performed epidemiologic research (the spread and control of diseases) also at the University of Connecticut for 11 years. She is widely published in the medical literature. Laurie lives in Florida with her amazing husband, two adorable boys and numerous animals on their small farm. She enjoys cooking and entertaining at her home. Laurie has her Master’s in Public Health and is also Certified in Public Health. If you have a public health question or would like more information about your illness, please contact her at LaurieD@altraservice.com. She is also available to develop and lead health seminars.