Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Do’s and Don’ts for COPD

What is COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is an illness that interferes with how the lungs work and makes it difficult to breathe. COPD generally involves a combination of two diseases:

  • Chronic bronchitis – having too much mucous in your airways which leads to a greater chance of respiratory infections.
  • Emphysema – damage to the lung tissue resulting in air trapping and makes it harder for oxygen to get into the blood.

What happens when COPD develops?
The airways thicken and close off passages. They can fill with mucous and lose their flexibility, causing them to trap air inside. There may also be too little oxygen in the blood.

What are the causes of COPD?
Smoking is the leading cause, but others may include:

  • Long-term exposure to industrial pollutants
  • Scarred or damaged lung tissue
  • The lack of a substance in the body, which protects the elastic tissue of the lungs (a relatively rare, inherited problem).

What are the symptoms of COPD?
Swollen, inflamed airways may lead to symptoms such as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Excess mucous
  • Coughing
  • Weakness & exhaustion
  • Weight loss

What Can You Do?
Understand COPD and take the proper steps to improve your health by doing the following:

  1. Quit smoking
  2. Avoid irritants
  3. Use the medications your doctor has prescribed to relieve symptoms
  4. Prevent respiratory infections
  5. Maintain a healthy weight
  6. Exercise (in moderation)
  1. Quit Smoking:
    • Set a target date and stick to it. Change your routine to avoid places where you usually smoke.
    • Make a list of all your reasons for quitting.
    • Throw out your ashtrays, lighters, and matches
    • Talk with your doctor about quitting. Your doctor may prescribe a nicotine replacement medicine to help relieve your symptoms.
    • Use the support systems available to you – Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line – 1-800-784-8669
    • Vernon Memorial’s Smoking Cessation Classes – For more information call (608) 637-4374
    • American Lung Association – 1-800-586-4872 or website at
  2. Avoid other irritants:
    In addition to not smoking, people with COPD should avoid other irritants such as:
    • Air pollution – avoid poor air quality such as smog and high pollen days
    • Dust – avoid vacuuming (wet-mop or clean with damp cloth as much as possible)
    • Pets – Dander and feathers can cause breathing problems for some people – avoid them if it is a trigger for you.
    • Aerosol sprays and chemicals – Use roll-on or solid deodorants or gel hair products instead of aerosol varieties. Stay away from chemicals such as ammonia or bleach.
    • Gasoline – Keep you car windows closed to prevent fumes from getting inside.
    • Smoke and Fire – avoid fireplaces and use the kitchen exhaust fan while cooking.
    • Extremes in air temperature and humidity – If you go out in the cold, wear a warm but lightweight down-filled coat. Don’t exercise outdoors when it is hot and humid.  
  3. Use Medicines To Relieve Symptoms:
    • Quick Relief Medications –
      Purpose: To relax and open the airways
      Possible side effects: A faster heartbeat, nervousness, upset stomach, headaches, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, and irritability.
    • Long-term Control Medications (Steroids) –
      Purpose: To decrease the swelling of the airways
      Possible side effects: weight gain, bloating, easily bruised skin, nausea, and sleeplessness. Inhaled varieties may cause dry mouth and oral infections. Rinse your mouth out with water after each dose of an inhaled steroid medication.
    • Antibiotics –
      Purpose: To fight respiratory and other bacterial infections. (Routine use of antibiotics is not recommended)
      Some possible side effects: Nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, and a rash.

    Be sure to let your healthcare provider know if you take any over-the-counter medications or nutritional or herbal supplements. Always report any side effects to your healthcare provider immediately.  

  4. Prevent respiratory infections: 
    People with COPD should have a flu shot every year before the start of the flu season. Ask you doctor about pneumonia shots. Most people just get one in their lifetime.
    • Avoid contact with someone who has a cold or the flu
    • Wash your hands frequently to protect yourself from respiratory infections
    • Watch for signs of a cold or the flu. Call your doctor right away if you have:
    • A fever
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Nasal congestion
    • Increased coughing
    • Fatigue
    • Yellow or green mucous

    Your doctor may prescribe medicine to control these symptoms and help you feel better.  

  5. Maintain a Healthy Weight: 
    People who are underweight may lack energy, have weak muscles and have trouble fighting infections. Carrying extra weight can make stressed respiratory muscles work even harder. Your health care provider may recommend:
    • A special diet
    • An exercise program to fit your specific needs
    • Eating smaller, more frequent meals
    • Avoiding salt so you don’t retain fluid (especially if you have heart failure) 
  6. Exercise in Moderation:
    Exercise can help your body use oxygen more efficiently, strengthen muscles, and improve your state of mind. Your exercise routine doesn’t have to be fancy --- it can be as basic as walking.
    • Warm up before exercising. Walking at a slow pace for 5-10 minutes --- then stretch.
    • Set goals higher as you progress. Reaching goals, even small ones, will give you a sense of accomplishment.
    • Choose activities you enjoy. If you’re bored with your exercise program, you probably won’t stick with it. Consider walking, gardening, or exercise with a friend.
    • Don’t overdo. Set a pace that’s comfortable for you.
    • Ask about medicines. Your doctor may prescribe oxygen while you exercise or increase your flow rate. Your doctor may also prescribe medicine to take before exercising so you can breathe more easily.
    • Stop and rest if you get dizzy or short of breath.
    • Like the warm-up period, you should stretch and move at a slower pace for 5 – 10 minutes after exercising.
    • Reward yourself. Do something nice for yourself after you reach your goal. It will motivate you to reach the next one.

    Your health care provider may recommend that you enter a pulmonary rehabilitation program. They can help you live better through:

    • Exercise training, to increase strength and improve breathing
    • Nutrition counseling, including how to choose and prepare healthy foods
    • Education – self-care tips
    • Stress management and relaxation techniques
    • Learn new ways to breathe and conserve energy
    • Support groups for you and your family

For more information on Vernon Memorial’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, call Cardiopulmonary Diagnostics and Rehabilitation department at (608) 637-4497.

You can manage COPD! Remember to take all of your prescribed medicines, including oxygen, avoid irritants, understand how your medicine works, eat several small meals each day instead of three large ones, exercise in moderation, and keep your spirits up by staying active!