Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Your Job

Tips For Working When You Have COPD

Anxious Hispanic businessman rubbing forehead at office desk
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A diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—a condition that causes inflammation of the lungs and severe difficulty breathing—may seem like the end of life as you know it. In truth, many things will be different from now on. But although at first, it may not seem possible, once you and your doctor have worked out how best to manage your COPD, you may find that it will be much less disruptive than you feared.

This may be particularly true of your work life. Although some research has shown that in certain cases a person with COPD may have a significant drop in income and even wind up quitting work altogether, neither is a given. In fact, both are more likely to result from the impact of health conditions associated with COPD, such as pneumonia or heart disease, rather than the disease itself.

Of course, if you've been diagnosed with COPD and it's clear the type of work you do will make your condition worse, you may want to consider long-term disability. Otherwise, there are many viable ways to continue working productively and earning a living while living with COPD. 

Making Your Workplace Work For You

If your job is likely to have little impact on your condition and you choose to continue working, talk to your employer about making adjustments in your physical environment and schedule that will allow you to continue working with as few disruptions as possible.

Some relatively easy things your employer might do to accommodate you include:

  • Assigning a parking space for you that's close to the door
  • Moving your workstation closer to the entrance of the building
  • Permitting you to work from home a couple of days a week, or even every day
  • Giving you the flexibility to come in late or leave early for doctor appointments 
  • Providing a smoke-free, dust-free, fume-free environment—for instance, asking your co-workers not to wear heavy colognes or perfumes
  • Making sure the office has adequate ventilation
  • Allowing you to use a scooter or motorized cart in the office

The Importance of Self-Care

While your employer will be concerned about your personal health and well-being, he also will understandably need to feel confident you'll do what you can to stay productive. Let him know that for your part, you will:

  • Do everything you can to prevent a COPD exacerbation. An exacerbation can cause you to miss work or even land you in the hospital. Wash your hands frequently, steer clear of crowds or people who are sick, and always get your flu and pneumonia vaccines.
  • Wear your oxygen at work. Oxygen therapy helps prevent breathlessness, improves mental alertness, and increases stamina. If wearing a nasal cannula makes you uncomfortable, consider investing in a pair of oxygen therapy eyeglasses.

Should You Retire?

Leaving your job early because of COPD can have a negative impact on your pension benefits and a dramatic effect on your financial well-being and that of your family's. For that reason, don't be too quick to accept early retirement.

First check in with your doctor to make sure you really are doing all you can to continue working, such as using oxygen therapy at work or trying a different medication to reduce your breathlessness.

Next turn to a financial planner and the personnel department of your company. If early retirement really is your best option, both can help you make preparations to ensure that you and your family are well taken care of.

Sources:

European Lung Foundation. "The Impact Of COPD On Working Aged Populations." Sept 26, 2011.

Steele, Margaret F. The COPD Caregiver Guide: At Work with COPD: Helping Make Workplace Accommodations for Your Loved One With COPD.

 

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