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Helping Someone Cope

The first step in caring for someone with COPD is learning everything you possibly can about this disease. It’s critical for loved ones and family members to be aware of COPD causes/symptoms, treatments and how to deal with the disease on a day-to-day basis. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your loved one. 
The good news about COPD is that it is almost completely preventable, and when caught early on, symptoms can almost always be reduced. Quitting smoking can also reduce the risk for and symptoms of COPD. Knowing the causes and symptoms may encourage you to see a healthcare professional if you feel you or a loved one is at risk. And the earlier you catch COPD, the more treatment options you may have.
Causes and symptoms
In the vast majority of cases, smoking is the cause of COPD. It accounts for approximately 90 percent of all cases. A smoker is 10 times more likely than a non-smoker to die of COPD.

Other risk factors include:
  • Heredity
  • Second-hand smoke
  • Exposure to air pollution at work and in the environment
  • A history of childhood respiratory infections
The primary symptom of COPD is shortness of breath accompanied by a cough or wheezing. Since COPD is oftentimes a combination of emphysema and chronic bronchitis associated with airflow obstruction, it's important to understand the symptoms of each of these conditions. Symptoms of emphysema include cough, shortness of breath and a limited exercise tolerance. Symptoms of chronic bronchitis associated with airflow obstruction include chronic cough, increased mucus, frequent clearing of the throat and shortness of breath. Remember, not all types of chronic bronchitis are associated with COPD.

In the later stages of the disease, someone with COPD could suffer from severe shortness of breath, coughing and excessive amounts of sputum (mucus), wheezing, recurrent infections, swelled ankles and a bluish skin tint. At advanced stages, people with COPD may need constant care and supplemental oxygen in order to breathe.

The earlier a healthcare professional detects COPD, the easier it is to treat. So, if you wonder whether or not you are at risk, speak with your healthcare professional. Starting a treatment plan for COPD early is the best way to control its symptoms.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for COPD at present. However, there are treatment options available that can ease symptoms. Strictly following a healthcare professional's treatment plan may reduce symptoms, decrease hospital visits and allow those who suffer from COPD to do more of the things they enjoy.

When someone is diagnosed with COPD, they should do everything in their power to quit smoking. It may be extremely difficult, but this important lifestyle change will reduce symptoms and improve conditions -- even after one is diagnosed with COPD.
Current treatment options include drug and inhaler therapy, home oxygen therapy and surgical therapy. These options could improve quality of life with COPD

Other lifestyle changes
Gardening, playing with the kids and even climbing stairs are simple things in life that can become difficult for those with COPD. But that doesn’t mean they have to give up the things they love. By following a healthcare professional’s treatment plan and making some simple changes in diet and exercise, improvement in lifestyle is possible.

Remember, too, that eating properly is beneficial to overall health.
Exercising regularly can improve strength and mood. There are also specific breathing exercises that may help to improve lung function before beginning activities. A healthcare professional can come up with a realistic, practical and suitable exercise program.

Daily lifestyle enhancements
Learn how diet, exercise and certain techniques can help the person you’re caring for feel more healthy and comfortable.
There are some simple things you can do to make life more enjoyable, healthy and comfortable for someone with COPD. First of all, focus on nutrition. Try to serve meals with lots of fruit and vegetables. Diets rich in protein are also important for maintaining strength. Also, be sure the person you’re caring for drinks lots of fluids—unless told not to by a healthcare professional.

Exercising can improve mood and strength. Take walks with the person you’re caring for. Speak with his or her healthcare professional about creating a realistic exercise program. Encourage him or her to exercise even if it’s something as simple as walking around a chair 5 times a day.

You can do a few things to make the person you're caring for more comfortable. It is sometimes more difficult for COPD patients to breathe when lying flat. So if it makes the person more comfortable, try propping him or her up on pillows. If the person is having trouble with coughing and mucus, tap lightly on his or her chest and back. This can help dislodge extra mucus. Be sure to talk with your healthcare professional about other ways you can help the person be more comfortable.

Keep your loved one’s spirits up. If you get creative, you can find ways for the person to enjoy the things he or she loved before COPD. For example, if your loved one enjoys gardening, help him or her with an indoor (or outdoor, if possible) gardening project. Read aloud or provide books for reading. Pets can be a great comfort, too. COPD can be a frustrating illness in its advanced stages, so hobbies and activities can make day-to-day life more enjoyable. Your healthcare professional may also have suggestions about things to do.

Lifesaving tips

Know when it’s time to call for medical help. Have an emergency plan ready.

When you’re caring for someone with COPD, it's important to understand when it's time to seek emergency treatment. Your healthcare professional can give you a few guidelines about this. Have a plan ready so you can seek help as quickly as possible. This can include deciding which hospital to go to, having emergency phone numbers handy, and informing other caregivers, neighbors or family members of your emergency action plan.

Avoid contagious illness
Someone with COPD is much more susceptible to influenza and lung infection. So it’s very important to protect the person you’re caring for from these illnesses. Be sure to wash your hands often and make sure your loved one with COPD washes often, too. Avoid close contact with people who have a cold or influenza and steer someone with COPD away from close contact with sick people. Be sure to take someone with COPD in for a flu shot each year at least 6 weeks before flu season. Finally, ask the healthcare professional about a pneumonia shot.
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Last modified: June 17, 2002