COPD Frequently Asked Questions

I am struggling with quitting smoking. How can you help me quit, and will it really help me breathe better?plus

Quitting smoking is the one thing you can do that has been proven to slow the progression of COPD. Review the information on our quitting smoking page for more information. There's also many discussions on COPD360social on the topic of quitting smoking.

I am on supplemental oxygen and at times my saturations are okay, but I still get very short of breath. I don't understand why the supplemental oxygen doesn't prevent me from getting short of breath. Isn't that what oxygen is supposed to do?plus

Low oxygen levels are actually caused by the failure of blood vessels in your lungs to connect with the air sacs that contain oxygen. Your lungs may still be able to support that connection, but you may be short of breath due to other factors, such as hyperinflation, retained carbon dioxide, and a flattened diaphragm, increasing your work of breathing.

I was recently diagnosed with severe COPD. How long do I have to live and what quality of life can I expect?plus

There is no time limit on how long a person can live, even with very severe COPD. If you exercise safely and effectively, and pay attention to early warning signs of acute exacerbation of COPD—and act on those early warning signs—you can live a full life.

I attended pulmonary rehabilitation several years ago and learned the proper techniques for taking my medications, but the medications do not seem to work as well as they used to. Why is that, and how do I know that I am taking the right medications?plus

Your COPD may have progressed since then, requiring a different medication regimen. Discuss with your health care provider about trying different medications and doses. It may also help to ask your doctor’s office to show you the right technique to use your inhaler.

I have had two recent hospitalizations because of my COPD. How can I avoid these flare-ups in the future?plus

To remain stable and eliminate or decrease these episodes, you must learn about triggers, early warning signs of COPD flare-ups (exacerbations), and have a written action plan worked out with your health care provider. Taking your medications as prescribed will also help you stay healthy. Make sure you take your flu and pneumonia shots. Quiting smoking also help reduce the number of exacerbations you may get.

My insurance does not cover all the costs for my COPD treatment, and I cannot afford the medications and oxygen. Which medicine should I stop taking to save money? What kind of financial assistance is available to me?plus

It’s never safe to just stop taking a medication unless directed by your health care provider. Check with your provider for free samples, the maker of your medications if they have a prescription assistance program, or the Partnership for Prescription Assistance. Also ask a local social worker or discharge planner for programs available in your area.

At times, I become extremely short of breath, anxious, and frightened. How can I avoid these panic attacks?plus

A trained respiratory health care professional can teach you techniques to keep yourself calm, even when you’re short of breath. Participation in pulmonary rehabilitation is the best way to learn and get reinforcement for this important issue. There is also treatment available, so be sure to bring this up at your next health care provider appointment.

I thought only smokers can get COPD. I have never smoked tobacco but my doctor told me I have Alpha-1 COPD. How is this different from regular COPD? Does this mean my children may get this form of COPD too?plus

A person who has never smoked can develop COPD. One of the causes is alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which is genetically inherited. There is a possibility that your children could get this, especially if your spouse is a carrier of the gene. If you have alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, you should have your spouse and children tested.

My health is not what it used to be, and COPD is not my only problem. What other diseases are associated with COPD? Will these other conditions impact my overall health?plus

Other health problems are called comorbidities. Because the heart and lungs work so closely together, COPD may put a strain on your heart, so heart disease is a common comorbidity. COPD is also a risk factor for developing blockages in the blood vessels supplying the heart. Of course, additional chronic health problems call for close monitoring, and possibly additional medications, but with proper management you may still enjoy a long life.

My doctor keeps telling me I need to get more exercise, and now she is sending me to pulmonary rehabilitation. How can I exercise when I can't even catch my breath?plus

The staff at pulmonary rehab is specially trained to work with people with severe shortness of breath, and significant physical limitations. Pulmonary rehabilitation also includes useful breathing exercises and sessions on understanding how to manage your condition better. Even if you are extremely limited in what you’re able to do, you can improve and breathe better with pulmonary rehab.

Resources and Support

The COPD Foundation offers resources such as COPD360social, an online community where you can connect with patients, caregivers and health care providers and ask questions, share your experiences and receive and provide support.