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If you have COPD, you can improve your life with good management of the disease. Always make sure you talk with your healthcare provider about questions and concerns.

Try these tips for managing COPD:


1. Give up smoking

Giving up nicotine is one of the most important things you can do for your health. More than 3 million Americans quit every year. There are several helpful techniques to help you to quit. Talk with your provider to determine which one may be most helpful to you:

  • Medications
  • Nicotine replacement therapy
  • Self-help materials
  • Counseling
  • Group programs

Learn more about quitting smoking.


2. Eat right and exercise

Shortness of breath that comes with COPD can make it hard to heat a balanced diet. Eating a healthy diet and exercising are important to keeping and improving your fitness level. Always talk with your provider before starting a diet or exercise plan and start slowly.

  • Eat small, more frequent well-balanced meals.
  • Use a smaller plate and portions.
  • Keep a bottle of water with you and drink before you eat.
  • Eat one fresh vegetable or fruit with every meal.
  • Keep moving to keep your muscle strength.
  • Use a step counter to track how much you walk every day, then try to "beat" your number by one step the next day.
  • Build muscle by lifting a can of vegetables or using a exercise band.
  • If physical therapy is prescribed, do your exercises and go to your appointments.

Learn more about nutrition and exercise with COPD.


3. Get rest

Rest is important to over all health, but there are several things that can make sleep difficult if you have COPD. Most of the sleep problems related to COPD can be helped-talk with your provider.

  • Try to avoid napping so you are tired at bedtime.
  • Try to get 30 minutes of exercise three times a week.
  • Don't do anything stimulating (exercising, working, arguing) 2 hours before bedtime.
  • Have a small high-protein snack such as cheese and crackers, a glass of milk or handful of nuts before bed. Avoid large meals and a lot of carbohydrates.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
  • Wear socks to keep your feet warm.
  • No caffeine after 5 p.m.
  • Keep regular bedtime and wake-up times.


4. Take your medications correctly

Most people with COPD take medicine to help with regular and occasional breathing problems. Your drug treatment plan is tailored to your needs you need to monitor how it is working and talk with your provider when you have questions or concerns.

  • Use a daily routine for taking your medicine. Combine taking your drugs with another daily routine such as brushing your teeth. Keep your medicines with your toothbrush.
  • If you take pills a different times during the day, use a medicine checklist to help you keep track of when you need to take which pill.
  • Get a pillbox with sections for different days of the week and even times during the day to help you not miss a dose.
  • Tell your doctor about unpleasant side effects they may be relieved by changing the dose or medication.
  • Keep all your medicines with you while traveling, never check them in your luggage.

Download the COPD Medication Checklist.


5. Use oxygen appropriately

Some people with COPD need oxygen therapy to help their body work properly. Oxygen therapy allows you to be more active and does not cause any harm to your lungs or body if it is used correctly. You may need it for sleep, rest and activity.


6. Retrain your breathing

Learning new breathing techniques will help you move more air in and out of your lungs. This helps decrease shortness of breath.

  • Diaphragmatic breathing: Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. While breathing in, push your stomach out. This uses the diaphragm and the lower respiratory muscles.
  • Pursed lip breathing: use the same diaphragmatic breathing technique, but when you breathe out, purse your lips slightly like you are going to whistle. Breathe out slowly through pursed lips. Do not force the air out.


7. Avoid infections

If you have COPD, you have an increased risk of lung infections.

  • Vaccines are often recommended. The influenza vaccine is recommended yearly. The pneumonia vaccine is recommended every 5 to 7 years.
  • Wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of germs and infections.

Learn more about avoiding infections.


8. Learn techniques to bring up mucus

When mucus collects in the airways, it can make breathing difficult and can lead to infection. Your doctor can demonstrate these techniques for you. Use the techniques after using your bronchodilator medicine.

  • Deep coughing: take a deep breath and hold it for 3 seconds. Use your stomach muscles to expel the air. Avoid a hacking cough or just clearing your throat.
  • Huff coughing: take a breath that is slightly deeper than normal. Use your stomach muscles to make a "ha, ha, ha" sound while you exhale. Follow this by diaphragmatic breathing and a deep cough if you feel mucus moving.

Learn more about techniques for bringing up mucus.


9. Make and use an action plan

Your doctor or healthcare provider will help you understand when your symptoms are getting worse and what you can do about it. Do not ignore your symptoms they will not go away. Know when to call your provider and when to go to the Emergency Department.


10. Learn more about COPD

You can live a healthy and happy life with COPD. Learn about the disease. Write down your concerns or areas where you want to see change and talk with your provider. Understanding how the disease can impact your life and what you can do to prevent or fix problems can help you take charge of your life and live the way you want to live.


This information has been approved by   Russ Bowler, MD, PhD   (November 2009).