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Turning Down the Volume? Considering New Tools for Refractory Dyspnea

Posted on May 12, 2022   |   

This post was written by Michael W. Hess, MPH, RRT, RPFT

Imagine, if you will, one of the people in your care living with COPD. You have been following this person for many years, and you have watched their symptoms steadily worsen, gradually eroding their quality of life. You have advanced their therapy by the book, first adding bronchodilators, then corticosteroids, even phosphodiesterase inhibitors and ongoing antibiotic therapy. They have been through rounds of pulmonary rehabilitation. When you saw them last year, they had just started long-term oxygen therapy but still managed to get out and about regularly. But today they show up in your clinic and they tell you that they’re just tired. They’re tired of being short of breath all the time. They’re tired of having to watch the grandkids play instead of joining in. They’re tired of slowly giving up one hobby after another because they simply do not have the energy anymore. They don’t want to endure a major procedure like a lung transplant, but they’re not ready to just throw in the towel, either.

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Tags: BLVR Bronchoscopic Lung Volume Reduction endobronchial valves
Categories: Promising Practices

More than.

Posted on April 28, 2022   |   

Written by Michael W. Hess, MPH, RRT, RPFT.

One of the first things our respiratory instructors taught us way back in the day was that we were to treat the patient, not the number. Focusing on what the numbers say can prevent you from seeing the bigger picture, whether it’s the oximeter that is reading the saturation of a bedsheet or the person who has been in an exacerbation so long their respirations have come back down to normal despite their tripod breathing and cyanosis. Actually looking at the person in your care can give you a much clearer picture of what’s going on.

I have taken that advice to heart throughout my career and passed it along to many a new therapist starting out. It has helped me, for example, understand why we cannot just focus on any singular metric when we talk about COPD severity. As I’ve gotten further along in my career, I’ve discovered that it still comes up short in one very important way. Just as numbers should not define the entirety of the patient, the word “patient” alone cannot be allowed to define the person in your care.

It can be easy to forget that in this era of unimaginable stress in health care, where visits are compressed and hurried, and where efficiency is often prioritized over empathy. However, it is still the key to truly effective patient care. I learned that firsthand a few years back when I had the chance to develop a COPD-focused chronic lung disease program in a primary care clinic. One of the first things I did was to ask my friends in the COPD community what an ideal clinic space might look like to them. I knew I would not have the leeway to do any major redesign or remodeling of the clinic space, but I wanted to know how to get people comfortable with the place from the jump.

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Categories: Promising Practices

The Top 10 Things Pulmonary Rehabilitation Did For Me

Posted on March 07, 2022   |   

Ken W.

This PRAXIS Nexus post was authored by Ken W., an active member of our COPD360social community who was diagnosed with COPD in 2010. He is married, has two grown children and nine grandchildren, and is an enthusiastic traveler and exerciser. Ken lists nature photography and bird watching – including eagle nest monitoring! – as well as complex cross stitching among his many hobbies. Thanks to Ken for sharing his experience with pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) with our community!

10. Forced me out of the house and into a small group of people with similar challenges.

In 2010, I spent 13 days in the hospital and was then released with O2 24/7. I knew nothing about COPD or O2 options. I also didn’t know if I would ever work again or if I could leave the house for more than an hour or so with a small tank. Being encouraged to travel to PR and the chance to see I was not alone on this journey were extremely helpful to me.

9. Exposed me to the various options for stationary and portable oxygen.

The only thing I knew before PR about supplemental O2 was that I had a concentrator for home use and small tanks for outside the home. PR taught me about options including LOX (liquid oxygen) and POCs (portable oxygen concentrators) as well as the difference between pulse and continuous flow.

8. Helped me to understand the various medications I am on, the dosage and how to properly use an inhaler.

I was sent home on lots of medications but didn’t understand what they were, what each was for or even how to use an inhaler or a nebulizer, all of which was cleared up at PR.

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Tags: pulmonary rehabilitation
Categories: Promising Practices

Airway Clearance: The Earlier, The Better?

Posted on January 27, 2022   |   

This post was written by Michael W. Hess, MPH, RRT, RPFT, COPD Foundation.

Inhaled medications tend to get the lion’s share of attention when it comes to COPD therapies, and for good reason. They’re familiar, they’re accessible, and they have long been some of the most effective tools we have for reducing symptom burden and managing other aspects of COPD, especially as we’ve focused on overall symptom control and reducing exacerbations. As COPD management evolves in the 21st century, the idea of “treatable traits” that can be directly addressed in order to manage symptoms and reduce exacerbation risk has risen to the fore, allowing for a more individualized approach to someone’s care.1

One of those traits is mucus hypersecretion, common in those people whose COPD leans more toward the chronic bronchitis side of things. Frequent, productive coughing is a way of life for this population, as their airways struggle to stay clear. For these folks, aerosol medications may not be enough to keep their COPD in check. That’s where basic airway clearance techniques come in. From breathing exercises like huff coughing to oscillatory positive expiratory pressure (OPEP) devices, these therapies assist the body’s own mechanisms clear out excess mucus, reducing cough and improving comfort. They come in several form factors, but the general idea of providing expiratory resistance coupled with airway vibration to both recruit alveoli and loosen secretions is consistent across all these devices. They are generally easy to use and have a track record of improving outcomes, at least in the short term.2 There are certain subsets of people living with COPD who need a still more aggressive option. Historically, this role has been filled by mechanical insufflation-exsufflation equipment. These devices use positive inspiratory pressure with a shift to negative expiratory pressure, simulating a forceful natural cough and assisting mucus clearance.3 However, there is limited clinical information to actually support the use of these devices in any disease state, and rates of adherence to therapy.4 Fortunately, there is another potentially valuable option for people who need higher-level airway clearance but who may not tolerate insufflation-exsufflation: high-frequency chest wall oscillation (HFCWO). HFCWO has long been used in other lung conditions, notably cystic fibrosis and bronchiectasis. Research into its application for COPD is still relatively young, but there are some promising signs.

As a quick review, HFCWO is delivered through the use of a percussive vest that uses either rapid air pressure cycling or small electric motors to induce percussion and vibration all around the thoracic cage. These impacts work to loosen mucus and move it from peripheral airways to more central ones with larger caliber, facilitating a more effective cough.5 Clearing the mucus out not only reduces cough frequency, but also reduces the risk that stagnant, pooled mucus will become infected, leading to what is often described as a vicious cycle of infection, inflammation, dysfunction, and structural damage in the airways.6

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Tags: airway clearance
Categories: Promising Practices

COPD Management is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

Posted on January 23, 2022   |   

This post was authored by Michael W. Hess, MPH, RRT, RPFT, Senior Director of Public Outreach & Education, COPD Foundation

“When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

It can be amazingly easy to get tunnel vision as a health care specialist. One can get so used to treating certain conditions that the care of every person in your care gets viewed through the lens of that particular pathology. It is a lesson I myself have learned the hard way as a respiratory therapist, especially as one working in chronic disease management. I remember one specific patient who first presented with spirometry, symptoms, and imaging entirely consistent with emphysema. We started them on a particular medication regimen and soon got their symptoms under control, for which they were quite grateful. Then one day they came back, complaining of new-onset cough. The rest of his primary care team and I worked diligently over the course of the next few months, following right along with best practices and strategy recommendations, adding this medication or that, calling in airway consults, and various other tricks to address this ‘progression’ of COPD. Unfortunately, not a single thing worked for this person, and while their shortness of breath and activity tolerance were still great, the cough was more bothersome every day. We were stumped.

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Tags: bronchiectasis comorbidities comorbidome concurrent conditions COPD management GERD NTM lung disease
Categories: Promising Practices

New Treatment Option for Severe Emphysema Patients: Bronchoscopic Lung Volume Reduction (BLVR) with Endobronchial Valves

Posted on July 13, 2021   |   

This post was reviewed by Xavier Soler, MD.

The following resource provides respiratory therapists and other allied health professionals key clinical information regarding a new minimally invasive treatment option, Bronchoscopic Lung Volume Reduction (BLVR), for patients suffering from severe emphysema.

The respiratory therapy community is committed to providing optimal patient care to those with cardiopulmonary health issues. These dedicated healthcare professionals provide critical respiratory services and often follow the patient throughout their entire treatment plan. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common diagnosis among a respiratory therapist’s patient base; COPD is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and in the United States, with nearly 16 million people diagnosed.1 Of those 16 million, at least 5 million people suffer from emphysema, one of COPD’s main presentations, involving progressive damage of lung tissue and distal airway (alveoli). This condition often results in hyperinflation of the lung, causing significant breathing challenges for patients.1

Until recently, treatment options for emphysema were limited to pharmacological treatment, or for patients that qualified, invasive procedures, such as lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS) or lung transplant. Bronchoscopic lung volume reduction (BLVR) with endobronchial valves is a relatively new, minimally invasive treatment option available for a subgroup of patients suffering from the debilitating symptoms of severe emphysema. This procedure has shown significant clinical benefits including improvements in lung function, shortness of breath, and quality of life. Specifically, for some patients with emphysema with hyperinflation, these benefits were achieved by ultimately improving gas exchange and allowing healthier parts of the lung to re-expand.

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Tags: BLVR Bronchoscopic Lung Valve Reduction
Categories: Promising Practices

Virtual Pulmonary Rehab and How we Can Fill in the Gaps

Posted on March 19, 2021   |   

This article was written by Jane M. Martin, BA, CRT

We all know that comprehensive group pulmonary rehabilitation is one of the most effective treatments for COPD with documented improvements in exercise capacity, health-related quality of life, reduced hospitalizations, and possibly improved survival. Thus, it is considered the standard of care for most patients with COPD who have activity limitation.

Despite this, it is estimated that only 2-3% of patients with COPD who are candidates for pulmonary rehabilitation in the United States undertake this treatment program. This is due, in part, to a number of barriers including lack of access, high cost, lack of transportation, poor reimbursement, and physical incapacitation.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many in-person pulmonary rehabilitation programs being temporarily closed, virtual, or remote, methods through telehealth platforms has allowed continued contact with patients and delivery of pulmonary rehab to individuals in their homes.

The outcomes of these programs have been mixed. In general, patients who adhere to a remote program show improved exercise capacity and well-being, but there is a poor record of continued participation in an exercise program. The absence of a sense of community and peer interactions contribute to this poor program adherence and suboptimal outcomes. In addition, many virtual programs have not included the full range of rehab elements.

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Tags: pulmonary rehab pulmonary rehabilitation remote pulmonary rehab telehealth virtual pulmonary rehab
Categories: Promising Practices

A Health Care Professional’s Personal Experience with COVID-19

Posted on February 23, 2021   |   

By Michael Stephen, MD

My experience with COVID-19 started on Easter weekend of 2020, when I was pulled from my usual duties to cover overnight shifts in the medical intensive care unit at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. From the moment I entered the hospital, I felt extraordinary tension and fear; for the first time in many healthcare workers’ lives, we recognized our jobs brought real personal danger.

I remember the first COVID-19 hospital admission I had: a 60-year-old woman who arrived with a smile on her face and a positive attitude – but severe inflammation in her lungs. I’ll never forget her smile, humor, and positivity in light of this devastating infection.

The first two months treating patients with COVID-19 was unlike anything I’ve experienced in medicine. We had no medicines to treat and many patients seemed to decline rapidly with respiratory failure. We also panicked as a medical community, treating with all types of drugs that were unproven.

We abandoned primum non nocere, first do no harm, for primum succerere, rush to help. It was a normal reaction as everybody wanted to do something, but I don’t think it did much good.

Still, despite a feeling of being out control, some patients did well. Their positive attitude certainly helped, and many fought through extreme deconditioning by working hard on nutrition and physical therapy, cornerstones of fighting your way back from any lung disease. The hospital workers showed courage and fortitude, and through it all I never saw a schedule go unfilled or people go absent despite the tremendous personal risk.

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Endobronchial valves: Could they help my patients with emphysema?

Posted on December 08, 2020   |   

This article was written by Stephanie Williams, BS, RRT and was reviewed by Byron Thomashow, M.D.

More than 25 years ago, a surgical procedure changed the landscape of emphysema treatments – lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS). The surgical procedure removes emphysematous lung tissue, leaving the healthy tissue able to function better. In carefully selected patients, LVRS reduces dyspnea, increases exercise capacity, and improves quality of life and survival. LVRS was the first therapy since oxygen to show improved survival in advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, LVRS involves a surgical procedure, carries potential risks, and is available in only a limited number of top centers.

Recently, the landscape changed again. There is now a minimally invasive treatment option available for those patients with either heterogeneous or homogenous emphysema – endobronchial valve therapy or, as it is more commonly called, bronchoscopic lung volume reduction (BLVR). This therapy aims to reduce hyperinflation in the lung, improving gas exchange by allowing healthier parts of the lung to expand.1 "Hyperinflation or air trapping in patients who have severe emphysema is a devastating complication that causes increased shortness of breath, decreased exercise tolerance, and worse quality of life,” says Gerard Criner, MD, Chair and Professor, Thoracic Medicine and Surgery, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. A typical treatment usually involves placing multiple valves in the airways via bronchoscopy. This reduces patient risk and makes it a therapy possible for more people. The valves are meant to be permanent but are designed to be removed if that becomes necessary at any time.

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Tags: endobronchial valves treatment valve
Categories: Promising Practices

Patient Care In the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond

Posted on July 20, 2020   |   

This article was written by Mike Hess, MPH, RRT, RPFT

Masks during COVID-19

There’s a lot of talk about how SARS-CoV-2, commonly known as the coronavirus, has changed our world. There are certainly things that are significantly different these days; social distancing stickers dot waiting room floors, “contactless” deliveries have become normalized, there’s a lot more Plexiglass around. We have become much more aware of people around us coughing and sneezing. We’ve started weighing the risks and benefits of participating in activities we once did without a second thought, from going to the movies to seeing friends at a restaurant to getting our hair trimmed. For many of us in health care, the pandemic has, in fact, had a profound influence on our daily routines and rituals.

The same is not necessarily true for our patients, though. Not because they haven’t had to change their day-to-day, but because they were already there.

That point was driven home to me fairly early in the pandemic. For several years now, I have participated in a variety of COPD-centric online and social media groups, from COPD360social to my own group on Facebook, COPD Navigator. I have been fortunate enough to develop connections with people living with COPD, their caregivers, and clinicians across the country. These connections give us the opportunity to see a vast number of different viewpoints and opinions, but the pandemic illustrated something of an anomaly: While many of us were taking to our feeds to talk about how things had changed for us overnight, most of the COPD community was essentially going about their business. They were already distancing. They were already consolidating trips to reduce exposures. They were already washing their hands, and usually already even wearing masks, at least at high-risk contact points. They were already taking all the “new” steps being suggested to protect themselves.

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Tags: COVID-19
Categories: Promising Practices

A PRAXIS Case Study: Paul S.

Posted on February 25, 2020   |   

Patient with doctor

Read and comment on our latest PRAXIS case study!

Current Visit: Paul S. is a 60-year-old man with a diagnosis of COPD. He is being seen by his pulmonologist as a sick-visit due to a “cold” he has been unable to recover from for two weeks. Symptoms from this illness have become progressively worse, with increased green sputum production, and increased breathlessness at the time of this visit. Paul has had to take off work for the past three days due to impact of these symptoms and is worried about how much longer it will take him to feel well enough to return to work. This is a big concern for him because he is self-employed as a stone mason and no work means no income.

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Tags: case study
Categories: Promising Practices

Our Experiences at the NHLBI’s COPD National Action Plan Meeting: Why the Clinical and Scientific Community Should Engage in the National Action Plan Implementation

Posted on December 16, 2019   |   

This post was written by Dr. Stephanie LaBedz, pulmonologist and post-doctoral research fellow, and Ellen Stein, senior research specialist. Both authors represented the Breathe Chicago Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago at the November 2019 meeting, “COPD National Action Plan: Tracking Our Progress,” hosted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Perspectives from Stephanie LaBedz, MD

As a pulmonologist who cares for patients with COPD, I am all too familiar with the many challenges faced by patients with COPD, their caregivers, and the healthcare providers who strive to improve the lives of these patients. In addition, as a post-doctoral research fellow, I understand that despite COPD affecting over 16 million Americans and being the 4th leading cause of death in the United States, research efforts in COPD lag those of other health conditions. The NHBLI’s COPD National Action Plan was an important step in unifying the COPD community toward common goals of increasing COPD awareness and minimizing the burden of disease.

I attended the COPD National Action Plan: Tracking Our Progress meeting in November 2019 with the intent of representing the work of the Breathe Chicago Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Although I did have an opportunity to share some of our work, I left the meeting energized by the work others were undertaking as a part of a larger framework to improve the lives of those with COPD. The ideas and activities shared by other participants were innovative and inspiring. I look forward to collaborating in the future with those I met at the meeting to address the ongoing needs of the COPD community.

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Tags: COPD National Action Plan public policy
Categories: Policy News

E-cigs: How Did We Get Here AGAIN?

Posted on July 18, 2019   |   

Guest blog by Mike Hess, RRT, RPFT

One of my all-time favorite TV shows is Battlestar Galactica. While I grew up with the campy, cheesy original with Lorne Greene shepherding the “rag-tag fugitive fleet” to a new home among the stars, I actually prefer the more recent 2005 reboot. This version took a much more grounded, realistic approach to storytelling and moral discussion. One of the recurring motifs of the show is the phrase, “This has all happened before, and it will happen again,” and ideas like resurrection, learning from history, and breaking cycles.

Unfortunately, this motif seems to have become all too real for anyone involved in the lung health community. I was recently at a meeting of one of our local Better Breathers groups to discuss the upcoming launch of a new Harmonicas for Health program, and the group facilitator had brought some prints of old cigarette ads. The messages on these ads ranged from the clinical (“20,679 Physicians Say “Luckies are less irritating!”) to the risqué (“Blow in her face, and she’ll follow you anywhere”), but a common theme is that certain cigarettes are awesome. They’re what the cool kids like Lucille Ball and Bob Hope are doing, and some of them can actually even be good for you. After all, if the typical smoker inhales 200 times per day, that’s “200 good reasons you’re better off smoking Philip Morris,” right? They’re proven mild! (**NOTE: Most of these ads are available at for citation and/or pictures, Hope/Ball ads are at**)

We know better these days, of course. We know that no cigarettes are healthy, no cigarettes work to improve asthma, bronchospasm, or anything else, and it wasn’t cigarettes that won World War II. We know that these statements are absurd and ridiculous. But we also know we’re seeing the same kinds of imagery and arguments being used right now to support electronic nicotine delivery systems, or ENDS. These devices, more commonly known as vapes or e-cigarettes, are becoming nearly ubiquitous in modern society, much like smoking once was. And, again as in the case of their combustible ancestors, these devices are being sold as an indispensable accessory for an aspirational lifestyle.

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Tags: advertising e-cigarettes smoking

Device Technique: A Forgotten Factor in Therapy Adherence

Posted on April 05, 2019   |   

Imagine if you will, you’re seeing one of your folks with COPD. Inpatient, outpatient, doesn’t really matter. You’ve seen Mr. or Mrs. X more often than you should have over the past few months. No matter what you do, they keep coming back to your office (or worse, heading to the emergency department) with uncontrollable shortness of breath. You ask them if they’re using their inhaled medications and they tell you, “Yes, of course.” You’ve heard that before, but a quick check of the counter seems in line with at least most of the expected doses. You’ve run through pretty much the whole gamut of meds in the desired class, so now what? There’s nothing left, right? Maybe this is just where they’re going to live from now on.

Or maybe not. Although many people have an idea of inhalers being easy-to-use medication delivery systems because that’s usually what they see on TV, anyone who has ever had to use one (or teach one) knows that’s simply not true. Inhaler technique is a learned skill, no different from driving a car or riding a bicycle (or typing a blog entry). Like many other skills, use of an inhaler is not necessarily mastered quickly or without practice; however, if we truly hope to be effective in helping our patients live their best lives, we must start taking more time to evaluate their technique and guide them toward mastery.

Therein lie a couple of problems. First, we don’t always know what the best technique is. As a respiratory therapist, I’m quite sure I was taught all the steps of proper metered-dose inhaler priming and activation, but I’m also quite sure my polished technique fresh out of RT school eventually got dusty and rusty from disuse. It wasn’t until I started doing outpatient disease management and teaching technique regularly that I discovered I had been teaching the wrong things for who knows how long. I’m not alone, either; a 2014 study of inpatient nurses found that while 71% of those surveyed felt confident in their MDI skill, 79% were observed to have critical errors in their technique.(1) A more recent study published in Respiratory Care even found that fewer than half of pulmonologists surveyed felt confident in their knowledge of inhaler technique.(2) If we can’t teach, how can we expect our patients to learn?

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Tags: action plan devices education inhalers
Categories: Promising Practices

Community-Acquired Pneumonia Causes Significant Burden for Vulnerable COPD Population

Posted on February 08, 2019   |   

Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), which carries a high morbidity and economic burden worldwide, can be even more physically and economically devastating to individuals with COPD, according to a new study posted online in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases: Journal of the COPD Foundation. The study was conducted by the COPD Foundation in collaboration with and funded by Pfizer Inc.

“Patient-Reported Consequences of Community-Acquired Pneumonia in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease,” one of the first studies to include only COPD participants and individuals younger than 60, concluded that individuals with COPD suffering from CAP will miss an average of 21 days from work, be impaired from normal activities for more than 30 days and experience weeks of lingering symptoms.

Study Methods

Nearly 500 individuals with COPD who had also recently received a CAP diagnosis completed one survey within 120 days of their initial CAP diagnosis and a second survey 30 days later via the secure online, interactive patient registry—the COPD Patient-Powered Research Network (COPD PPRN). Participants were recruited via multiple routes including posts on the COPD Foundation’s COPD360Social online network, Facebook posts and outreach to existing research participants in the COPD PPRN.

Participants’ CAP diagnoses were self-reported without medical record verification, however 96.5% of participants stated they did have a chest radiograph or computerized tomography to diagnose or confirm their CAP.

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Tags: community-acquired pneumonia

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