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Shortness of Breath With COPD
Managing shortness of breath when you have COPD can be challenging. Fortunately, you can minimize the frequency and severity of difficult breathing episodes by using a comprehensive approach. By taking steps to prevent of shortness of breath and using effective interventions should difficulty breathing arise you will be able to breathe easier.
You already know that taking rescue medications and using oxygen therapy if you need it can help to relieve symptoms of shortness of breath. However, there are many other things you can do to prevent shortness of breath, even though they may seem to be unrelated. Let’s take a look at some actions you can take right now to diminish future episodes of shortness of breath.
Wash Your Hands
One of the most important steps you — and your loved ones — can take to prevent you from becoming short of breath is to practice frequent hand washing. You might initially think, “What does washing my hands have to do with my breathing?” But take a moment to think about why you wash your hands. It is to prevent the spread of infection causing germs. If you stay well and don’t get a respiratory infection, you will breathe better. Therefore washing your hands is a very important part of having healthy lungs and reducing shortness of breath.
Another important way to prevent shortness of breath is to make sure that you eat a healthy diet. Flavor your foods with liberal amounts of herbs and spices. Herbs contain antioxidants and other plant compounds that strengthen and tone the tissues of your respiratory tract. They can help to ward off infections and keep your air passages clear. Oregano, thyme, cayenne, garlic, onions and rosemary are outstanding additions to your diet.
Many people who have COPD are underweight or eat poorly due to a lack of energy. Rather than drinking supplements, which are often mucus forming, consider yogurt-based smoothies instead. Add a teaspoon of flaxseed oil to each smoothie to take advantage of its moistening, anti-inflammatory properties. Reducing inflammation diminishes irritation and lessens the urge to cough. Avoid mucus-forming foods, such as whole milk and ice cream.
Drink plenty of water so that your mucus membranes are well hydrated. Consuming liquids helps to prevent infection, reduces coughing and thins mucus. Hot teas, such as green or ginger, are excellent choices. Add some local honey to your tea and reduce your sensitivity to airborne allergens. Honey is soothing and helps to fight off harmful bacteria.
Have a strong cup of black coffee at the first sign of shortness of breath. Coffee contains natural compounds similar to epinephrine. The natural compounds in coffee open up tight air passages and make breathing easier.
While inhalers are one option of delivering medication, a nebulizer for COPD is another. We go over the advantages and disadvantages of using this device.
Take Your Medications
See your health care provider regularly and take your medications as prescribed. If they are not working well, let your health care provider know so that your current medications may be adjusted. If that does not help, your provider may prescribe a different medication regimen.
A wide array of medications are used to prevent and treat difficulty breathing. Here are some of the most common types of medications used to treat COPD.
- Oxygen: Most people don’t think of oxygen as a medication, however it is widely prescribed as a therapeutic agent. If the level of oxygen in your system is too low and shortness of breath is present, oxygen can provide rapid relief. Be sure to use oxygen at the flow rate your health care provider prescribes, as too much oxygen is not healthy for you if you have COPD.
- Diuretics: Commonly referred to as “water pills,” diuretics work by removing excess fluid from your body’s tissues. By relieving fluid buildup from the cardiovascular and circulatory systems, you will breathe easier and the energy your body uses to maintain itself will be conserved.
- Corticosteroids: Steroid medications reduce inflammation of your air passages, allowing you to breathe easier. Many people who have COPD take corticosteroids on a regular basis. Higher doses may be used during periods of infectious illness and difficulty breathing.
- Bronchodilators: Many medications taken by means of inhalers or nebulizer machines are bronchodilators. They are used as routine long term medications as well as for rescue treatments to open up tight, constricted airways. Bronchodilators relax the air passages and allow you to take deeper breaths.
- Anxiolytics: Medications that reduce anxiety are classified as anxiolytics. Being short of breath is scary. When you get scared, your air passages tighten up and cause breathing to become increasingly difficult. A cycle of increasing anxiety and shortness of breath may ensue. Anti-anxiety medications help to prevent and break that cycle. These medications may also help you to get a better night’s sleep. Sometimes antidepressants are used to help relieve anxiousness too.
- Antibiotics: If you have a respiratory infection, your breathing will be more difficult. Judicious use of antibiotics to fight infections is sometimes necessary. If you think that you have an infection, notify your health care provider so that treatment may begin promptly.
- Narcotics: Sometimes narcotics are used to help relax the air passages and relieve coughs. Narcotics help to allay anxiety and relieve chest discomfort caused by frequent or harsh episodes of coughing.
Live a Healthy Lifestyle
Since COPD is a chronic health condition, it is important that you live a healthy lifestyle. How you live effects how well you breathe and the quality of your life. Here are some tips for living well.
- It is extremely important that you do not smoke and avoid smoky environments. Take advantage of the many programs and tools available to make quitting easier.
- Get your flu shot every year. Find out what your heath care provider recommends for other immunizations, including the pneumonia vaccine.
- Avoid crowds and being around people who are ill, especially during cold and flu season.
- Be prepared for emergencies. Keep contact information for your health care providers handy. Maintain an up to date list of all of your medications. Let family members know where your medical information and rescue medications are located, in case an emergency arises.
- Get daily exercise. Consult with your health care practitioner regarding recommendations.
- Practice pursed lip breathing exercises several times daily. Perform them while you engage in other activities such as walking, or exercising. Pursed lip breathing helps you to get more air into your lungs. It is an excellent strategy to employ if you are feeling short of breath.
Implement these strategies for maintaining lung health and you’ll find you experience less shortness of breath, fewer infections and an improved energy level.