Living with COPD: 5 questions to ask your doctor

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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is the third leading cause of death by disease in the United States. More than 16 million people have been diagnosed with the disease, but millions more have it without even knowing it. With COPD, the airways in your lungs are blocked, making it hard to breathe. There is no cure for COPD, but it can be managed and treated. Through medications, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation and support, many individuals are able to live with COPD for many years. 

Your doctor is your partner in managing COPD. Together, you will create a management plan that will include the treatments you need based on your symptoms. You can take an active role in managing your COPD by asking your doctor these five questions.

1. Am I using my medication correctly?
To get the most out of your treatment, take your medications just as they are prescribed, even if you don’t have symptoms. Some nebulizers and inhalers can be tricky to use. Have your doctor show you how to use them to make sure you are doing it correctly.

2. What should I do when I feel my COPD worsening or have a flare-up?
Talk with your doctor about what you should do. When living with COPD, it is very important to pay attention to your body and know your own normal. By knowing what symptoms to look for and how to best handle them, you can help decrease the severity of a flare-up and potentially avoid hospitalization. 

3. What vaccinations do I need?
With COPD, a cold or other respiratory infection can become very serious. Always talk with your doctor about which vaccinations you should have. The American Lung Association recommends the flu, pneumonia and COVID-19 vaccines. You should also wash your hands often, practice good oral hygiene and avoid crowds and people who are ill.

4. Should I consider a pulmonary rehabilitation program?
Pulmonary rehabilitation uses education and exercises to teach you about your lungs and your disease. You’ll learn how to exercise, strengthen your breathing muscles and be more active with less shortness of breath. Many people with COPD experience both physical and emotional benefits from participating in pulmonary rehabilitation.

5. What else can I do to improve my lung health and quality of life?
Many individuals living with COPD find relief through breathing exercises like pursed lip breathing or diaphragm breathing. You might feel isolated and depressed when living with COPD. Finding social support through pulmonary rehabilitation or other support communities can help you both physically and emotionally. 

When you are diagnosed with COPD, your life will change. It may not be as easy to do the things you did before. But, by following a healthy lifestyle and getting treatment and support early, you’ll have the best chance at continuing to do the things you love.