Breathe Easier - What is COPD?

Posted on

Jul 14, 2022


Minnesota - Twin Cities Metro Area

Share This

If you or someone you care for has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you already know that living with this condition can be a challenge. Here are some ways to help you understand and better manage COPD and its symptoms.

What is COPD?

COPD is a lung disease that results in restricted airflow, making it hard to breathe. This condition keeps the lungs from doing their job of bringing oxygen into the body and getting rid of waste gases. It can get worse over time.1

While an estimated 15 million Americans suffer from COPD—the third leading cause of death in the U.S.—several additional millions likely have COPD and don’t even know it. With early diagnosis and treatment, people with COPD can improve their quality of life.2

What causes COPD?

Cigarette smoke is, by far, the most common cause of COPD. Other causes are long-term exposure to lung irritants like secondhand smoke, air pollution and chemical fumes.3 Symptoms usually appear in people who are 40 and up, although they can begin earlier due to certain genetic conditions

COPD symptoms

Symptoms of COPD grow slowly over the years. Watch for:

  • Frequent or long-lasting coughs (with or without mucus)
  • Shortness of breath (worse with activity)
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness

If you or someone you love has these symptoms, see a doctor.

Keep COPD under control

COPD can’t be cured, but it can be managed. There is a lot that can be done to treat symptoms and improve quality of life—so that COPD doesn’t keep you or your loved one from enjoying your favorite activities.

Ways to help manage COPD include:

  • Stop smoking: It doesn’t matter how long you or your loved one has smoked or your age—it’s never too late to quit.
  • Take medicines as directed by your doctor: Bronchodilators are usually taken by inhaler and make breathing easier by relaxing muscles in airways, and inhaled steroids help reduce inflammation during COPD “flare-ups.” As COPD progresses, the oxygen level in the blood may drop. Oxygen therapy may then be needed to make sure there is enough in the blood to keep muscles and tissues working their best.

Ask your doctor about medications and lung exercises that can help you or your loved one suffering with COPD.

How pulmonary rehab can help

Pulmonary rehabilitation, available in the outpatient setting, can help manage COPD-related symptoms. It combines education, exercise and support to help you or your loved one suffering from COPD lead a more active life, reduce “flare-ups,” improve quality of life and stay out of the doctor’s office or hospital.

Pulmonary rehab does not reverse the damage to lungs from COPD but helps you or your loved one perform daily tasks—such as walking, dressing and other chores—more easily. A team of health professionals works to determine a treatment plan that fits in with your or your loved one’s short- and long-term goals.

Pulmonary rehab sessions offer:

  • Education about flare-up triggers, early signs of infection, when to seek treatment and disease progression
  • Information on treatment options, including inhalers and oxygen therapy
  • Breathing techniques to help with daily symptoms
  • A professional partner to help you exercise
  • Tips on healthy choices like eating well and quitting smoking
  • Although pulmonary rehab can improve your or your loved one’s daily life, it does not reverse effects that COPD has had on the lungs or other organs. While it does not cure COPD, over time, it helps you or your loved one train the mind, muscles and heart to get the most out of damaged lungs.

    To find out if you or your loved one might benefit from pulmonary rehab, take the assessment, opens new window and talk to your doctor.


    1. “What is COPD?”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed September 12, 2021,
    2. “More than 16 million Americans have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Millions more have it and don’t know it.”, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, last accessed September 12, 2021,
    3. “COPD”, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, last accessed September 12, 2021

    Other Articles You May Like

    Caring for a Loved One With Aphasia

    Caring for a Loved One With AphasiaOur ability to communicate with others is something most of us take for granted on a daily basis. From small interactions, like asking someone to pass the salt, to more extensive conversations about complicated feelings, the ability to verbally communicate our wants and needs is a large part of the human experience.Aphasia, however, occurs when someone loses their ability to communicate due to damage to the part of the brain that impacts language.What Is Aphasia?Aphasia can result from a trauma to the brain, such as a stroke, head injury, tumor, or even an infection. It impacts all modes of language including speech, writing, gesticulating and comprehension. Aphasia impacts roughly 2 million people in the United States, and an estimated 180,000 cases are diagnosed each year. Strokes are the most common cause of aphasia, and as a result, older people are the most affected by aphasia.If you are caring for a loved one with aphasia, you may feel frustrated and overwhelmed at times. This may be especially true during the early stages of a diagnosis, but tapping into the tips listed below can help guide you through this new reality with patience and grace.Expand Your ToolboxBy learning more about aphasia and the limitations your loved one is experiencing, you can begin to alter your behavior and expectations. Once you have a better understanding of the brain and how aphasia impacts communication skills, you can learn some new techniques and strategies for how to communicate with your loved one, including facilitative conversations. For example, according to APTUS Speech Therapy, the temptation to fill all the silences, and to ask a question when they already know the answer (a test question) can serve as a barrier to communication instead of a facilitator. Instead, the company recommends leaving space to talk, prompting writing or gesture, and offering comments instead of test questions.Limit DistractionsIf you or your loved one are used to having background noise on in the home, such as television or radio, turning it off in order to reduce distractions while trying to communicate can also help improve the experience for both of you. Providing your loved one with your undivided attention is an ideal way to try to connect with themthis is a good piece of advice both when loved ones are able to communicate clearly and when they are struggling with language after an aphasia diagnosis.Take Advantage of Nonverbal CommunicationLingraphica, a technology company that creates devices to help improve speech impairments after a stroke or brain injury, encourages caregivers to use a pen and paper or dry erase board to help bolster communication with loved ones. Its not uncommon for someone living with aphasia to know the first letter of the word they want to use, so having something nearby that they can write on provides a jumping-off point for them to communicate their thoughts. The benefit, as the company describes it, is that as you draw and write, you can end up with a complete story at the end of the conversation.Practice Self-CareNo matter your loved ones condition, as their caregiver, its important to replenish your own energy throughout your caregiving journey. The best way to do this is to make time for yourself. Whether that means you make time every day to listen to your favorite podcast or audiobook, exercise, talk with a friend, meditate, or simply take a bubble bath, doing something kind for yourself isnt selfishits a necessity.Bring in a ProfessionalThere are a variety of resources you can tap into when you are feeling overwhelmed about caring for your loved one with aphasia. From bringing in a professional speech language pathologist to work with you and your loved one on tools and techniques for improved communication, to hiring a professional caregiver to provide you with some respite from your caregiving duties, knowing that you are not alone on this journey can make all the difference.  Hillary Young is a writer dedicated to helping older Americans live healthier, more fulfilling lives. She currently blogs for HuffPost50 and Medical Guardian. You can find her on Twitter as @hyoungcreative.For home care assistance, call Right at Home located in Daphne and Mobile, Alabama.

    Spotlight: March 2024 Newsletter - Celebrating Our Caregiver of the Year Nomination

    Greetings,In our last bi-monthly newsletter, I mentioned we had nominated one of our caregivers Jane, as the Caregiver of the Year for Visiting Angels nationwide. We were notified at the end of January, she was selected to move onto Round 2 of nominations! This round, we must submit video testimonials about Jane from the client, family members, office staff, and our owner Karen. By the time you read this, we will have submitted the video testimonials and will hear back by March 21st if Jane is a semi-finalist for this prestigious award. The winner of this years Caregiver of the Year award will be announced at the Visiting Angels 26th Annual Conference being held in June and will receive $5,000. There are many team members deserving of consideration for Caregiver of the Year, yet Janes exceptional qualities really stand out. Id like to share an excerpt from the written nominations highlighting Janes contribution.Jane has worked with our team for almost three years. She is dedicated to her work and committed to her clients. She is always on time and never calls out, no matter the weather conditions. The dignity of those in her care is a top priority for Jane while maintaining a positive attitude. Shes willing to go-with-the-flow in any circumstance. For example, when her client resists wearing oxygen and doesnt remember why they need to wear it, Jane knows how to navigate the situation with grace and patience. On the other hand, she holds her ground with difficult clients, and even though it may be uncomfortable, she handles it with respect and kindness.Nominating a caregiver of the year is not just a process, its an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the extraordinary dedication and compassion of someone whose role is to serve others. Being a part of this journey of recognition has been rewarding because it highlights the invaluable contributions of caregivers nationwide and the importance of acknowledging their efforts. Its been a reminder of the power of appreciation and the significance of recognizing individuals who demonstrate excellence in their work. Im pleased to be a part of a nationally known and locally owned company, like Visiting Angels, who understands the importance and joy of recognizing others. In the end, nominating a caregiver is about acknowledging the countless acts of kindness and the immeasurable impact caregivers have on the lives of others. Whether or not Jane wins nationwide, she is our Visiting Angels of Medford, MA Caregiver of the Year 2023, and that is something to celebrate! I look forward to giving you another update regarding the award in May. All for now,Abby

    Exercise Ideas For Seniors: Stay Fit by Moving at Any Age

    Staying physically active is crucial for people of all ages. As we grow older it becomes even more essential. Being active in a routine exercise program can have many benefits including flexibility, emotional well-being, and heart, bone, and joint health.  As we age it may become more difficult to find physical activities that are enjoyable and appropriate for our physical limitations. Especially those with limited mobility or chronic conditions. Here are a few exercise ideas for seniors that may be of interest and accessible for everyone to stay active and healthy at any age.  WalkingWalking doesnt require expensive equipment or fancy clothes.  It can be done anywhere, anytime.   You can walk at the local senior center with friends, in the neighborhood with your family or on your own around a park. Starting slow and knowing your limits is key.  Building distance and intensity can increase in time or just remain the same. It is your exercise program, your choice.  Balance and Exercise ClassBalance and Exercise classes have been known to show to improvement in balance, flexibility, and even mental health. Joining a low-impact exercise class is a great way to be surrounded by those also interested in improvement and in a safe, supervised environment.   You can join these classes in a group setting at the local Senior Center, on video from the library or online in the comfort of your own home.  Most of these classes take into consideration all levels of functional abilities. SwimmingSwimming is another low-impact exercise that is easy on the joints and muscles. Many recreation and senior centers offer water exercise classes for movement such as aerobics specifically designed for seniors.Dancing and Movement ClassDancing may seem like something difficult if you have limitations or chronic illness but there are specially designed classes to consider all individual needs.  Dancing is a great way to move and have fun at the same time. It can be ballroom, line dancing, or just movement to your favorite music, it all can improve balance, coordination, and flexibility. Many community centers and senior centers offer dance classes specifically tailored for seniors. It is never too late for anyone of any age to start moving.Starting out slow and small can build to make a great impact.   Before you get started it is always best to consult with your physician first.  They will let you know areas of limitations and signs to watch for specific to you and your medical conditions.  For more information about the exercise programs and activities hosted at Grace Pointe Senior Care Community contact us today.