Staying Healthy with COPD

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.
  • If you smoke, quit. Avoid secondhand smoke, strong chemical odors including perfumes and strong cleaning solutions dust and pollution. All can worsen your breathing!

Take your medications as directed. If a certain medication does not seem to offer you the relief you expect, talk with your doctor. Medication for COPD is not always a “one size fits all” proposition and there might well be a medication that will work better for you.

-The COPD Coach

Ask the Expert 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. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.


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  • All these things are important, and I'd add one more: if you do think you're getting something respiratory, get to your doc ASAP. As my friend, pulmonologist Dr. Brian Tiep, says, "An exacerbation is like having a party and I want to be the first one invited!" The one thing that we really want to avoid, besides getting sick in the first place, is to get REALLY sick and have to be hospitalized, and that can happen if we don't catch things quickly. Far better to be a well wimp than a really sick toughie. I was at a workshop last week with a number of PCPs who see lots of people with COPD, and they all said they'd rather get 500 false alarms than deal with one of their patients in the hospital. So don't wait to get help!

    • Yup. My FP doctor has made me promise him that if I even *suspect* that I'm getting something as minor as a cold that I am to call him IMMEDIATELY. After two bouts of pneumonia (neither of which resulted in hospitalization - although on one occasion it was highly suggested), I have NO desire to go through that a third time or to lose any more lung function and I'm going to keep my promise to him.
  • Well written article. I am vigilant about trying to stay well. First indication, earlier this year, that an exacerbation was happening, I talked with my RT during rehab exercises. I received an immediate Rx for antibiotic and warded it off. I would also like to encourage the exercise. My RT told me that I needed at least 45 mins. 4-5 days a week. At first it was tough and I wanted to quit but she reminded me it would take time. I have now been doing this for several months and can see that it is helping me breathe better. I now include it as part of my day which meant having to change my lifestyle. Darn, I hate change, don't adapt well but managed to pull it off.
  • Hello,

    I am at the end of my rope so I thought I would give this a chance. I am a 31 year old Army vet, a husband, and a father of 3. My wife works but cannot bring in enough income to pay the bills. I cant find any midnight shift work and I cant work days because I have to be at home with the kids. We have a four bedroom that houses my wife and I, my three kids, and mother who has COPD and asthma along with a slipped lumbar disc. They denied her disability because they believe she can still work when clearly she can’t. She has been in the hospital sedated and intubated for a week and a half because of a bad asthma attack that left her unable to breath. This has happened because I can’t even afford her breathing inhalers. They are charging my wife almost 500 dollars a month for health insurance that we can’t afford.

    2,000 dollars pays her medical bills and gives her the medication she needs. I know it’s asking for much and if you refuse I understand, but as I stated previously, I’m at the end of my rope and I’m giving this a shot, please help! God bless.


    Corey R.

    Vet, Husband, and Father

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