9 Tips to Retain Lung Function With Stage III COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an inflammatory disorder characterized by the restriction of airflow. into and out of the lungs. It affects over 600 million people worldwide and accounts for over four million deaths annually.

The Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) classifies COPD into four stages, with the mildest form being stage I and the most severe being stage IV. If you are diagnosed with stage III COPD, it means that your lung function has been seriously impaired with increased shortness of breath, wheezing, and fatigue making daily function increasingly difficult. Symptoms may have even resulted in one or more hospitalizations.

Even at this more advanced stage of COPD, there are things you can do to retain the breathing capacity you have and prevent (or at least slow) further progression of the disease.

Ways to retain lung function in Stage 3 COPD
Illustration by Jessica Olah, Verywell

Put Out the Cigarettes

Quitting smoking is the one thing you need to do at any stage of the disease. Not only will stopping make you feel better physically and emotionally, it can dramatically slow the progression of the disease. Smoking damages the air sacs, airways, and lining of your lungs, the injury of which can make it harder to inhale and exhale. Smoking can also trigger for COPD flare-ups.

Quitting can be tough, but there are a number of strategies you can rely upon to ensure greater success:

  • Stopping all at once rather than tapering down or switching to low-tar/low-nicotine brand is a more realistic approach. Tapering down actually make it easier to fall off the bandwagon.
  • Avoid other smokers or places where people smoke. Besides the fact that it may encourage you to smoke, why undermine the cause by exposing yourself to second-hand smoke?

Get Your Flu and Pneumonia Shots

According to GOLD, annual flu shots can reduce the risk of illness and death in people with COPD by around 50 percent. The pneumonia vaccine is also recommended for people 65 years of age and older to better reduce the risk of bacterial pneumonia.

People with COPD have compromised lung function and, as such, are at high risk for getting the flu. When pneumonia develops, the damage caused to the lungs can be irreversible. If you are living with Stage III COPD, the prevention of flu and pneumonia is considered essential because once lung infection occurs, any damage caused will be permanent and only advance your disease that much further.

Always Keep Your Rescue Inhaler Close at Hand

Although bronchodilators do little to slow the progression of COPD, your doctor will recommend one to treat any flare-ups or shortness of breath. Short-acting bronchodilators like Albuterol or Proventil (also known as rescue inhalers) are used on an as-needed basis for the relief of persistent or worsening respiratory symptoms.

Ultimately, the less stress you put on your lungs here and now, the less accumulative damage they will likely incur moving forward.

Use Your Long-Acting Bronchodilators as Prescribed

Long-acting bronchodilators are commonly used as the disease progresses to help you prevent or reduce symptoms. Your doctor may recommend that you combine bronchodilators with different modes of action because this method may be more effective, with equal or fewer side effects, than using just one bronchodilator alone. Long-acting ​beta-agonists are one type of bronchodilator containing medications like salmeterol or formoterol. Long-acting anticholinergics are another type using Atrovent, Spiriva, or Combivent.

Don't Forget Your Daliresp

Phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4) inhibitors are a class of drug that treats inflammation associated with COPD. A once-daily oral medication, PDE4 inhibitors help reduce COPD exacerbation with typically minimal side effects. The drugs work by reducing airway inflammation in people who are resistant to standard therapies. By doing so, less mucus is produced, resulting in less accumulation and obstruction of air passages.

Daliresp (roflumilast) is the only PDE4 inhibitor currently approved in the United States. The main side effects of PDE4 inhibitors include diarrhea, nausea, and headaches.

Take Pulmonary Rehabilitation Seriously

Pulmonary rehabilitation is generally added during stage II COPD and continued as the disease progresses. It includes exercise, relaxation, breathing techniques, airway clearance, and emotional support to help people better cope with their condition. Among the aims is to avoid the need for oxygen therapy indicated in stage IV COPD.

Pulmonary rehab can help reduce disease symptoms, improve the quality of life, decrease social isolation, and increase survival time. The program uses a multidisciplinary team of nurses, physical and occupational therapists, dieticians, and counselors.

Speak With Your Doctor About Glucocorticoids

Treatment with glucocorticoids (commonly known as steroids) is controversial, but GOLD recommends them in the inhaled form once you reach Stage III and are suffering from frequent exacerbations.

Oral steroids may be used to treat COPD when symptoms rapidly get worse. Inhaled steroids, by contrast, are typically used to treat stable symptoms or when symptoms are slowly getting worse.

Eat Healthy to Improve Lung Function

While a healthy diet cannot cure 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 any chest infections that are common among people with COPD.

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Article Sources

  • Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD). "Evidence in Support of Prevention and Maintenance Therapy." Pocket Guide to COPD Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention: A Guide for Health Care Professionals. 2017:9-18.