6 Tips on How to Live and Cope With COPD

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Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be challenging, as the disease dramatically impacts your daily life. Often causing severe disability, a diagnosis of COPD can lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

As the disease progresses, any kind of physical activity or social interaction may prove difficult. Luckily, you can take back your independence and improve your quality of life by incorporating the following tips into your daily life.

Maintain a Safe Environment

Maintaining a safe environment is an important part of COPD management and should be moved to the top of your priority list. Safety, both inside and outside the home, will help to preserve your health and assist you in carrying out activities of daily living in a safe manner. Things that you can do to foster safety around your home include:

  • Remove all throw rugs from the floors
  • Place safety bars inside bathrooms, showers, and bathtubs and along walkways both inside and outside the home
  • Use a raised toilet seat
  • Remove all cords and other debris from pathways inside and outside the home
  • Ensure adequate lighting
  • Use non-slip slippers or shoes when moving about the home
  • Discard any medication expired or not in use in a safe place
  • Do not allow yourself to be near anyone who smokes (especially if on oxygen).
  • Write down emergency numbers and place in a visible place

Practice Effective Communication

Most of us take our ability to communicate with others for granted.

But, with COPD, communication may become difficult due to extreme shortness of breath. It is important for you to know that it is OK to take your time speaking. Talk in short phrases or sentences and pause in between to rest if necessary.

Conserve Your Energy

Breathlessness is understandably the most frightening aspect of COPD.

Unlike healthy people, breathing for a COPD patient involves a conscious effort and can be extremely challenging. Practicing energy conservation techniques will help you pace yourself so you can complete your activities of daily living and not get so out of breath.

Avoid Shortness of Breath During Meals

If you are getting short of breath while trying to eat, you are not alone. It is a problem and one of the most important to overcome, as malnutrition is one of the more common complications of COPD. You may also be trying to restrict your fluid intake to avoid unnecessary trips to the bathroom that may leave you breathless. The following guidelines may help:

  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day
  • To have more energy, rest before eating
  • Chew your foods completely and eat slowly
  • Allow yourself plenty of time to eat
  • Avoid foods that force you to chew excessively
  • Purchase a commode chair to avoid all those extra toilet trips

In addition, since many people who suffer from COPD frequently eat less, try focusing on eating foods that are high in calories to maximize your caloric intake. You can also supplement your diet with liquid meal preparations, like Boost or Ensure. If your appetite is less than normal, avoid drinking fluids until after you are finished eating.

Exercise Often

Exercise is an essential part of our daily lives. For those with COPD, it is even more important. Implementing simple stretching and breathing exercises or a daily walk will help you maintain your physical and emotional well-being. Many benefits of exercise are important to your health:

  • Improving your quality of life: Exercise gives you a feeling of control over your life and helps you to maintain your independence.
  • Helping you use oxygen more efficiently: Exercise strengthens the muscles you use for breathing as well as your other muscle groups causing you expend less energy.
  • Helping you maintain or lose weight: Carrying more weight around than you should make it harder to breathe. Exercise helps you control your weight, making it easier to breathe.
  • Improving your mood: Exercise is associated with alleviating depression and helps you relax thus causing you to use less energy.
  • Improving your sleep: If you sleep better at night, you will have more energy during the day. Exercise helps all of us sleep better.

Travel and COPD

Fortunately for all you travel bugs, living with COPD does not mean you can never enjoy traveling again. The key to an enjoyable trip is safety through planning and preparation:

  • Travel to a safe and healthy location
  • Make sure to have a checkup by your doctor before you leave
  • Don't forget your medication
  • Get your medical equipment serviced before you leave
  • Carry an oxygen prescription with you if on oxygen
  • Bring the proper clothing for the climate to which you are traveling
  • Eat, drink and be merry in moderation
  • Get enough sleep

If you are oxygen dependent and planning to travel by plane, certain restrictions will apply with each airline. Most will not let you bring your own oxygen on board, and will, therefore, require a prescription and/or letter from your doctor prior to departure. Make sure you contact the airline prior to your travel date to find out what is required. Remember too, that altitude may affect your oxygen requirement. Discuss this with your doctor at your pre-travel appointment.

Remember, COPD does not have to be the end of your dreams. By implementing lifestyle changes, you can improve the quality of your life and continue to live, one day at a time, to the fullest extent possible. With proper management, you can slow the progression of the disease and enjoy living.


Barnett, Margaret MSc, "Using a Model in the Assessment and Management of COPD" JCN Online Nov 2007 (21)11.

The Canadian Lung Association. Living With COPD. 2008.