Ask the Doctor: Different Things Can Help COPD
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I quit smoking one year ago.
I had a cough when I was smoking, and I still have it, but it’s much milder.
I saw a doctor, who tells me I have COPD.
I do pant when I have to climb stairs or do chores around the house.
The doctor put me on a medicine that I inhale.
How is that helping me?
What else can I do? - H.G.
ANSWER: COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is something that happens to many smokers.
It happens to nonsmokers too, but not in the numbers that it strikes smokers.
Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two COPD illnesses, and both usually develop together.
Emphysema destroys the air sacs, the tiny, delicate, bubblelike structures through which oxygen passes into the blood.
Chronic bronchitis is perpetual inflammation of the bronchi, the airways.
Symptoms of COPD are breathlessness on exertion, cough, production of thick sputum and wheezing.
The degree of COPD is best assessed through breathing tests - spirometry.
Those tests guide the doctor in prescribing medicines and advising patients how they can best cope with COPD.
Your inhaler medicine is one that expands the airways and reduces inflammation and mucus production.
Often the inhaler contains both a bronchodilator (airway expander) and a cortisone drug (inflammation fighter).
Taken as an inhalant, little cortisone gets into the blood, so its side effects are not great.
Some simple tips make breathing easier for COPD patients.
When you walk, bend slightly forward at the waist.
That gives the lungs more room to expand, and it facilitates the action of the diaphragm, the chief breathing muscle.
Practice pursed-lip breathing.
Inhale through your nose and exhale through lips that are puckered, as they are put together when a person whistles.
If you’re into precision, inhalation ought to take four seconds, and exhalation six.
Pursed-lip breathing keeps the airways opened.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible.