Canadian Lung Association Blog

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: The top five questions (and answers) from The Lung Association’s Lung Health Helpline

COPD_symptomsI’ve just been diagnosed with COPD. What does that mean?

COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It is largely caused by smoking, but it can also be caused by second-hand smoke, toxins in the environment that you breathe in, and genetics.

COPD develops over time. In most cases, it is diagnosed in people over 40 years of age. Someone with COPD may not realize they are becoming more short of breath until it becomes very hard to do simple tasks like walking up stairs.

When you have COPD, your lungs are obstructed or blocked, making it hard to breathe. With chronic bronchitis, your airways become swollen and can be filled with mucus, while emphysema damages the air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs. Both conditions can make it hard to breathe.

While there is no cure for COPD, there are many things you can do to manage it, such as quitting smoking, using your inhalers properly, and getting regular exercise.

Talk to your health-care provider and/or call The Lung Health Helpline at 1-866-717-2673 to talk to a certified respiratory educator who can answer your questions and send you information. Certified respiratory educators are health-care professionals who are trained to support and educate people about lung diseases such as COPD.

  1. Can I get help to pay for medication to quit smoking?

Each province decides what medications will be funded. So, depending where you live, you may be able to get help to pay for quit smoking medicines (e.g., nicotine replacement therapy or smoking cessation medication).

To find out about funding or if there is a program in your area, call The Lung Health Helpline at 1-866-717-2673.

  1. What are the treatments for COPD?

There are many medications to help people manage COPD. The main purpose of these medications is to reduce shortness of breath and lung attacks or flare-ups. Work with your health-care provider to determine the best medication to manage your specific symptoms, and learn how to use inhalers properly. At every visit, ask your health care provider to watch how you use the inhalers, even if you’ve used them for years.

To find out more about COPD inhalers and how to use them properly, go to lung.ca/lung-health/get-help/how-use-your-inhaler.

  1. What else can I do to help my COPD besides taking the inhalers?
  • Quit smoking. This is the most important step you can take to slow down the disease process. It is never too late to quit smoking.
  • Know how to use your inhalers properly, and understand why they have been prescribed.
  • Learn breathing control and energy management techniques to reduce shortness of breath and fatigue.
  • Exercise regularly to help your body use energy well and reduce shortness of breath.
  • Get a flu shot each year and ask your health-care provider about getting a pneumonia vaccination.
  • Develop a written action plan. A COPD action plan can help you recognize the warning signs of worsening COPD and help you decide what to do to avoid a lung attack or flare-up.
  • Monitor the air quality and adjust your activities accordingly. You can find the air quality health index at http://www.airhealth.ca.
  • Keep asking questions and learn all you can. Research into COPD is ongoing and there may be new ways to manage this disease.

 

  1. I have COPD. Do I need to be on oxygen?

Not necessarily. Oxygen is prescribed when oxygen levels in your blood are consistently low. While shortness of breath is a common COPD symptom, breathing extra oxygen does not necessarily reduce it. Using medication properly and learning breathing techniques can help reduce shortness of breath so you may not need oxygen.

Talk to your health-care provider and/or call The Lung Health Helpline at 1-866-717-2673 to talk to a certified respiratory educator who can answer your questions and send you information. Certified respiratory educators are health-care professionals who are trained to support and educate people about lung diseases such as COPD.

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