5 Ways to Prevent COPD From Getting Worse

A Practical Guide to Managing Obstructive Lung Disease

Self-care plays an important role in managing any chronic condition, but it's especially important if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Oftentimes, the initial response to a COPD diagnosis is to assume that you're going to get worse no matter what. It's an understandable reaction given that COPD is an irreversible condition and that any damage done to the lungs is permanent.

But that doesn't mean that COPD has an inevitable course. How the disease progresses from person to person varies enormously, and there are a number of things you can do to prevent it from worsening or becoming very severe. It all starts with you taking control.

An older couple at the gym together

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Here Are 5 Tips That Can Help:

1. Put Out That Cigarette Today

Quitting cigarette smoking is the one thing you must do if you intend to prevent the development of stage III and stage IV COPD.

Smoking causes inflammation of the lungs that results in an overproduction of mucus. The accumulation of mucus is the reason why we can't get enough air in the lungs, and, unless we stop this persistent inflammation, the condition will only get worse.

Even if you are in the later stage COPD, it's never too late to quit. Not only does stopping help slow disease progression, the health benefits only increase as time goes by. In many cases, symptoms of dyspnea (shortness of breath) will lessen within six to nine months of stopping.

There are a number of different smoking cessation aids available today, many of which are covered by insurance. 

2. Get Out of Your Chair and Exercise

The importance of daily exercise is often overlooked when putting together a COPD treatment plan. Beyond the obvious health benefits, an informed fitness program can help you regain a sense of control over your life while increasing feelings of wellness and self-esteem.

To get the most out of a fitness program, start by assessing your exercise tolerance with your doctor. This will allow you to know how much exercise you can reasonably manage when first starting out. With this information in hand, you can meet with a fitness professional who can put together a routine to fit both your current health and the stage of your disease.

3. Practice Good Nutrition Based on the Stage of Your Disease

Some people with COPD require as much as 10 times the energy to breathe as others. While a healthy diet cannot reverse COPD, it can help you feel better and provide more energy for all of your daily activities, including breathing.

The simple fact is that COPD places enormous stress on your body and effectively burns up all of the fuel you get from eating. As such, people with COPD will often need to increase their caloric intake, ideally with healthy foods rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals.

Eating right can also bolster your immune system and, in turn, help fight chest infections common in people living with COPD.

4. Avoid Air Irritants

There is no point in stopping cigarettes if you allow other people to smoke around you. Secondhand smoke is just as toxic (and potentially carcinogenic) as the smoke you inhale yourself. Don't be polite to the detriment of your good health. If someone around you is smoking, ask them to stop or move. 

This applies to air pollution or the occupational exposure to dust and harsh chemicals. If you want to protect your lungs, you will often need to make hard choices. While moving or changing jobs is not always viable, simple awareness allows you to take whatever necessary steps are needed to protect yourself.

5. Follow Your COPD Treatment Plan as Prescribed

Inconvenience or forgetfulness is never a good excuse for not following your COPD treatment plan as prescribed. This includes the improper use of bronchodilators, missing a dose medication, and forgetting your annual flu shot. In the end, you and you alone call the shots as to how well or poorly you adhere to treatment.

This also includes being linked to continuous medical care. As a rule, it is never wise to schedule a doctor's appointment only when things go wrong. By that time, the damage to your lungs will have happened. By seeing your doctor regularly, you stand a far better chance of avoiding illness and managing your disease more effectively.

In the end, the less stress put on your lungs, the less damage they incur and the slower your disease will progress. It's as simple as that.

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  1. Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease. Pocket Guide to COPD Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention: A Guide for Health Care Professionals, 2021 ed. Published 2020.

  2. Collins PF, Yang IA, Chang YC, Vaughan A. Nutritional support in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): an evidence updateJ Thorac Dis. 2019;11(Suppl 17):S2230‐S2237. doi:10.21037/jtd.2019.10.41