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Living With COPD: Successful Management Means More Than ‘Making Do’

Living With COPD: Successful Management Means More Than ‘Making Do’

With Pharmacy Resident Maddie Remelius, PharmD

In the United States alone, more than 16 million people have been diagnosed with COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. And of those 16 million, nearly 1 million are hospitalized each year for treatment.

But the good news is that we’re getting better at treating and managing COPD, so that the millions of people living with this condition can lead full and active lives.

“We want to preserve quality of life as best we can,” says Maddie Remelius, a pharmacy resident with Sarasota Memorial. “And if their COPD is controlled and treated, people can live long, happy lives.”

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a health condition that affects the lungs. It is typically caused by chronic exposure to smoking or an air pollutant.

Broadly speaking, COPD can be divided into two categories: emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

  • Emphysema occurs when the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs are damaged and lose their ability to stretch and expand. And when these alveoli cannot fully inflate, it reduces the amount of oxygen that the lungs can transfer to the bloodstream.
  • Chronic bronchitis refers to inflammation and irritation of the bronchial tubes in the lungs, which can cause excess mucus to block the airway and make breathing difficult.

For both, common symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and an increase in mucus production.

A man practices using his inhaler.
COPD Prevention

Prevention of COPD begins with reducing and/or eliminating smoking. Tobacco smoke causes permanent damage to the lungs and is the leading cause of COPD.

However, smoking cigarettes isn’t the only cause of COPD. Long-term exposure to lung irritants, such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, dust, and chemical fumes can also lead to COPD.

To eliminate exposure to lung irritants, try to avoid environmental smoke and any outdoor activities when the air quality is poor. If lung irritants are unavoidable, consider wearing a filtered mask to protect your lungs.

Treating & Managing COPD

While COPD cannot be cured, it can be effectively managed and treated through a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.

The best way to prevent the worsening of COPD is to stop smoking. In addition, avoid the aforementioned environmental lung irritants: secondhand smoke, air pollution, dust, and chemical fumes/

Regular exercise and activity can also help preserve lung function.

Know Your Inhaler Technique

Correct inhaler use, known as “inhaler technique,” is vital in ensuring that the proper amount of medicine reaches your lungs. And different inhalers require different techniques.

Your doctor or pharmacist can show you how to use your inhaler as prescribed, and don’t be discouraged if it takes a little practice. And you can always check in with your doctor or pharmacist, if you think you need a refresher.

Alternatively, the COPD Foundation has also created the COPD Pocket Consultant Guide, an app with information on how to use various types of inhalers.

Certain medications can also help make breathing easier for people with COPD. Most of these are inhaled, so the medication is delivered directly to the lungs. These include:

  • Beta2-agonists
    Also known as bronchodilators, these relax the muscles in your lungs, allowing them to open up more fully, making it easier to breathe. Short-acting beta2-agonists, such as albuterol and levalbuterol, are used as rescue inhalers and should be carried with you at all times. Others are taken regularly to manage chronic symptoms.
  • Anticholinergics
    Also bronchodilators, these medications are similar to beta2-agonists, but they also decrease lung secretions, further allowing you to breathe easier. Examples include tiotropium, umeclidinium, and glycopyrrolate.
  • Inhaled Corticosteroids
    Inhaled corticosteroids work by both decreasing inflammation in the lungs and lowering mucus production. Typically, these are added to therapy if a patient has difficulty breathing after being on both a long-acting beta2-agonist and an anticholinergic inhaler.

Lastly, while there is not a vaccine specifically for COPD, the CDC recommends all individuals with COPD receive the flu vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine, and the COVID-19 vaccine.

Flu, pneumonia and COVID-19 all have the potential to severely impact lung function, exacerbating any COPD symptoms and placing those with COPD at high risk for complications. Because of this, protecting against those diseases can be crucial in managing COPD.

These vaccines can typically be administered at your doctor’s office or local pharmacy.

More Resources

If you or a loved one are living with COPD and are looking for more information or assistance, Sarasota Memorial has many options available to you.

Our Lung Health Outpatient Clinic is dedicated to helping those with COPD or other chronic respiratory disease to breathe easier and live better. As part of the Sarasota Memorial Pulmonary Disease Program, find help with everything from medication management and disease education to emotional support and tips to maintain healthy lifestyle changes. To learn more, click here.

The Better Breathers Pulmonary Disease Support Group meets monthly—virtually, these days—so that those living with COPD can share their experiences and their challenges, offer tips and advice, or just make friends. Guest speakers are often featured, and caregivers are encouraged to attend as well. To learn more, call 941-917-7070.

The COPD Foundation website is also full of good information on everything from living with COPD to keeping track of the latest research. Join the online COPD community and even find ways to get involved with outreach and education. To check it out, click here.

Posted: Mar 15, 2022,
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