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Find inspirational stories, tips from the COPD Coach, events, and current news on the COPD community blog. Have a question regarding COPD that you would like to share with our community? Contact our COPD Coach. Coaches Corner is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice. If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at We would love to hear your questions and comments.

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Archive: August 2015

COPD and Panic Attacks

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This blog post was written by Ryan Rivera,

Panic attacks are a type of mental health disorder that can feel overwhelming. Most people associate the word “panic” with fear, but panic attacks are not necessarily a fear-related disorder. Indeed, while they can be triggered by fear, panic attacks may have no trigger at all, and the symptoms are almost entirely physical. They include:

  • Severe shortness of breath.
  • Racing heartbeat.
  • Chest pain and difficulty breathing.
  • Feeling faint, lightheaded, or dizzy.

People that have never experienced panic attacks before often describe the experience as “feeling as though they are dying.” Over-sensitivity to your own physical responses is one of the clear culprits. A little bit of anxiety or nervousness (which is common for those with panic disorders as they worry that they may get a panic attack) causes the person experiencing the panic attack to overact to the heart beat increasing, triggering another panic attack.

Panic attacks are difficult enough for those that have no other physical or mental health problems, leading to agoraphobia and the occasional hospitalization despite nothing being physically wrong. For those with COPD, panic attacks can be much worse, because when you have COPD, a panic attack – which, again, has no physical cause – can be misconstrued as a serious health complication. Worse is that, for safety, it would be dangerous for a doctor to assume that someone living with COPD is having a panic attack, so they may load those with COPD with medicines and treatments they otherwise don’t need, potentially exacerbating your health problems or, at the very least, causing considerable medical expenses.

The most important thing you can do to help with your panic attack management is to learn as much as you can about panic attacks, pay attention to your own panic attack symptoms, and make sure those around you understand that you suffer from panic disorder.

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Tags: anxiety attacks comorbidities COPD panic
Categories: Tips for Healthy Living

Questions about Portable Oxygen Concentrators

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Dear COPD Coach,
I have been looking for a portable oxygen concentrator and have noticed that the continuous flow models are much larger, heavier, and have less battery time than the pulse models. My questions are, first why is this so, and second can anyone using oxygen use a pulse model?


Dear Confused,
You are correct when you say that continuous flow portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) tend to be significantly larger. There is a very good reason for this and it is really based on simple mechanics.

Oxygen concentrators all work pretty much the same. The ambient air we breathe contains about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% of other gasses. The concentrator has the job of taking as much of the nitrogen out of the air as is possible while leaving the oxygen. To do this, the concentrator draws in air through the inlet filter where a compressor compresses the air and puts it into the first of two cylinders called a zenolite tower which contains sieve beds. The sieve bed’s job is to become saturated by the nitrogen. A valve then opens (that’s the “poofing” noise you hear) and then the oxygen is pushed into a second zenolite tower where additional nitrogen is removed while the nitrogen in the sieve bed is released out of the unit. The oxygen, now at around 95% purity, also leaves the unit and travels to the user.

In order to produce large volumes of oxygen continuous flow models must have very large compressors and very large sieve beds to absorb enough nitrogen. In the case of a portable continuous unit it must have larger batteries in order to power the larger compressor. Pulse units have much smaller sieve beds and smaller compressors and therefore can use smaller batteries.

Continuous flow units put out a specific adjustable dose we measure in liters per minute. The oxygen put out by pulse units cannot be measured the same since it does not produce constant oxygen for one minute. The output of a pulse unit is determined by the size of the individual pulse (called a bolus) and is measured in milliliters per breath. The other thing that must be taken into account with pulse units is the number of pulses of oxygen they produce in a minute. It is very easy to “over-breathe” these units by trying to take more breaths than they are capable of producing.

Granted, much of the oxygen in a continuous flow unit is wasted simply because we pause between breaths. Most pulse units are designed to produce a pulse when it senses you are taking a breath (conservers work the same).

Another difference between pulse units is the purity of the oxygen and when and how the bolus is released. In some cases the bolus is released immediately when it senses a breath, and in other cases it is spread out longer or occurs later in the breathing cycle. All of this affects how you are saturated with oxygen. If the bolus is released late and you are taking short breaths, some of the oxygen could be wasted.

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Tags: concentrator O2 portable oxygen tips
Categories: Coaches Corner

Short of Breath After Eating

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Dear COPD Coach,

Why do I feel so short of breath after eating? More than a few times after eating out, I was so short of breath I could barely walk to my car. I love good food, but I am beginning to feel that it isn’t worth the pain of not being able to breathe.


Dear Breathless,

Feeling bloated or out of breath after a large meal is not uncommon with people who have COPD. There are actually a couple reasons why this occurs. When we eat a large meal, we require more energy to digest what we eat and experience more pressure on our chest and diaphragm. The result is we experience shortness of breath.

For many, COPD causes our lungs to become hyper-inflated, which means they take up more room in our chest. This results when air gets trapped in damaged areas of the lungs. When our stomach is filled, it can actually push against the lungs causing us to feel out of breath.

So, what is the answer? It is really quite sensible. Eat several small meals throughout the day. If you are at or below ideal body weight, eat foods that are high in calories. Avoid salt as much as possible since salt can cause you to retain fluid, feel bloated, and increase the workload on your heart. Avoid simple carbohydrates as these cause CO2 build-up in your blood causing less available oxygen. If you do eat foods containing carbohydrates, keep to complex carbohydrates like those found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grain bread.

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Tags: CO2 COPD eating fruit health lungs vegetable with
Categories: Tips for Healthy Living

Making a Ripple

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Despite being the third leading cause of death in the U.S., COPD is still unknown to many people. Bhavya Malladi and her grandfather, Evani RJ Rao, were among those people when he was diagnosed with COPD in October 2012. Upon his diagnosis, the lack of awareness and knowledge of such a devastating disease shocked Bhavya. She has since made it her mission to educate people around her so that no one else she loved would have to suffer the way her grandfather is.

Evani, 70, spent his life working as a hydro-geologist in India, and was exposed to dust from open field drilling. Although he quit smoking at the age of 53, Bhavya attributes the toxic fumes from his job and 20 years of smoking to her grandfather’s diagnosis. Within a year of being diagnosed, his condition drastically worsened. As she lives in California, and her grandfather lives in India, long phone calls with him have unfortunately become a thing of the past, because simply talking for a long period of time is too exhausting for him.

A fond memory she holds of Evani are long walks with him and her brother to a local candy store in India where they would buy their favorite chocolates and candies. They would walk back home while listening to him tell stories of India. As the years have progressed, this tradition has become impossible for Evani.

Seeing this debilitating disease progress so rapidly, Bhavya began to ask herself, “Why is it still so unfamiliar to people?” Bhavya has decided to honor her grandfather by making a difference.

“Never underestimate the difference you can make. Remember, even a tiny drop can make ripples,” she says.

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Tags: art awareness dance impact make a difference
Categories: Personal Stories

Staying Healthy with COPD

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Dear COPD Coach,
Having lived with COPD for some time, I do my best to avoid colds and other infections that can aggravate my COPD. Do you have any suggestions for me?

–Staying Healthy

Dear Staying Healthy,
Because COPD often affects our immune system, as well as our ability to recover from common illnesses, you are very right to be vigilant. Avoiding sick people is certainly a good start! However that is certainly not all you can do to remain healthy. Here are some tips to safeguard your health and avoid exacerbations (times when your symptoms become worse):

  • Washing your hands regularly is considered to be a good first line defense! Germs are often transmitted through things we touch. Something as simple as a shopping cart handle, or even a doorknob, can harbor germs. These germs are then entered into our respiratory tract when we touch our face. Washing your hands regularly will reduce the likelihood of catching an illness.
  • As you mentioned, avoid people who are sick. Consider wearing a surgical masks when you are around large groups of people during peak cold and flu seasons. Learn to spot the signs of an exacerbation. Key signs include: difficulty breathing for a longer period of time, a change in the color of mucus (please keep in mind, early morning mucus tends to be darker than later in the day and is normal), increased congestion, or more coughing than normal. If any of these signs are present, contact your doctor.
  • Diet is very important in COPD management. Because a person with COPD uses a large amount of calories just to breathe, it is important that you get enough “healthy” calories each day to offset this deficit. You should be eating balanced meals. Your meals should also be smaller and more frequent throughout the day. Large meals can actually cause breathlessness (if you use oxygen, wear it while you eat) and digesting large meals actually consumes a large amount of calories that you need to breathe.
  • Get into a regular exercise routine. The best tool here is respiratory therapy but if you don’t qualify or cannot afford it, you can always exercise on your own. Speak with your doctor or a respiratory therapist about an exercise routine that is safe, comfortable and effective for you.

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Tags: exercise flu health prevention season shot staying healthy
Categories: Advocacy

Running for his Father and the COPD Community

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Justin Daniels is a distance runner from Richmond, Indiana who is dedicated to honoring those who live with COPD by racing in all 50 states in 2015. He started his hobby when his father Leonard, 60, was diagnosed with COPD. “His lungs don’t work very well, so I am making it my mission to spread awareness about this disease,” Justin says. “I set up a booth at each event I am running with information that I am able to pass out to anyone wanting to know more about what I am doing. My mom helps pass out the information while I am running my races, but before and after I am at the booth or walking throughout the area asking people if they know someone living with COPD.”

The COPD Foundation caught up Justin to learn more about his efforts:

Q: How long have you been a runner?

A: I started out running while I was in high school as a Junior and Senior where I was a member of the cross country team as well as the track team. I started getting serious about distance running in 2011 when I found out my dad had COPD. I felt like I needed to do something not only for him but for everyone else living with the disease. I knew there wasn’t much I could really do besides make people more aware of what COPD actually is, as well try and raise money to help find a cure.

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Tags: advocate awareness cure Daniels for Justin running state captain
Categories: Personal Stories

A COPD Story Comes Full Circle

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Joe Morrison has a unique COPD story that has come full circle. His father Chuck was diagnosed with COPD in 2006, prompting Morrison to become an advocate for greater awareness around the disease. His advocacy efforts for the COPD Foundation brought him to our Annual Awards & Recognition Benefit in December 2011 in New York City, where he met Dr. Forrest M. Bird, inventor of the first practical mass-produced medical respirator and “Babybird” respirator—a pediatric respirator that saved the life of one of Morrison’s children, Brendan.

“I don’t know if there are words to describe how I felt. I am grateful beyond anything I can even say. The fact that I almost lost my son and he survived, and survived without have any kind of after-affects, there are no words to describe that,” Morrison says. “I would rate being able to thank Dr. Bird in person one of the top 10 things in my life. That’s big—I’m married and have four kids, so those are my top five right there. I can’t really accurately describe how great it felt to go to the person responsible for such an amazing device that has saved so many children, including my own.”

Brendan was born June 19th, 2005, and because of complications during birth, had to be rushed to another hospital and was put on the Babybird respirator.

“How well it functioned was reason enough to not have to put him on a bypass machine, and otherwise, he would have been kept in the hospital much longer with a much harder road for recovery,” Morrison says. “Today, Brendan has no affects from the lack of oxygen [at birth].”

“I’ve been very lucky to have been able to meet a lot of amazing people in my life, but to shake his [Dr. Bird’s] hand and look into his eyes, you can just tell he is someone with an enormous heart and incredible intellect. Within five seconds it was apparent what kind of an amazing person he is.”

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Categories: Caregivers and Caregiving Personal Stories Related COPD News

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