COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a progressive lung disease that makes breathing difficult. There is no cure and, because it is a progressive disease, COPD gets worse over time. Currently, there are millions of diagnosed cases of COPD in the United States, but many more cases remain undiagnosed.

While living with COPD can be challenging at times, it does not have to drastically alter your life. There are steps that you can take to manage your symptoms on a day to day basis that may even help slow the disease’s progress.

Avoid Irritants
One of the best ways to manage your COPD symptoms is to avoid lung irritants that contribute to COPD. If you smoke, quit – If you need assistance with quitting, enroll in a quit assistance program like Smoke Free for Life to get the help you may need. You should also stay away from others who are smoking as secondhand smoke can also exacerbate COPD symptoms.

Dust, chemical fumes and air pollution can also cause COPD symptoms to flare up. Keep harsh chemicals like heavy duty cleaners out of your home and limit time outdoors if dust, pollen or air pollution counts are high.

See Your Doctor Regularly
Ongoing, regular visits to your doctor are critical for staying on top of your COPD. Take the medications you’re prescribed as directed by your doctor, refill them before they run out and keep your doctor informed of any changes to other medicines you may take to avoid dangerous drug interactions.

You should also talk with your doctor about yearly vaccines for things like the flu or pneumonia and voice any concerns you may have about your increased risk for other diseases like lung cancer or heart disease as a result of COPD.

Prepare for Emergencies
The first step in preparing for emergencies is knowing when and where to seek help for symptoms. Keep numbers for your doctor and hospital as well as any emergency contacts handy. You should also have emergency medication nearby in the event of a flare up.

If you notice severe symptoms or your symptoms worsen over time, call your doctor immediately. He or she may make adjustments to your medications or recommend that you seek emergency care.

Seek Support
Living with COPD may cause fear, anxiety and depression on top of physical symptoms – Because of this, it’s important to surround yourself with a supportive group of people you trust including your family, friends and doctors. You may also wish to talk with a counselor about how your diagnosis makes you feel. If you begin to exhibit signs of depression as a result of your diagnosis, a counselor can help you work through those feelings or prescribe anti-depressant medications.

You should also consider joining a support group specifically for COPD patients. Talking and spending time with people who understand how you’re feeling may help you cope. Your doctor, or an organization like Breathe Pennsylvania may be able to recommend or help you find a group in your area.

The thought of living with COPD can be frightening at first diagnosis, but if you take the time to understand the disease, keep your doctor informed, prepare for emergencies and seek support from others, COPD does not have to take over your life.

For more information on living with COPD or to become involved in Breathing Partners, Breathe Pennsylvania’s COPD program, visit us online or call 1-800-220-1990.