COPD is different for everyone. So it only makes sense that the way each individual approaches his or her treatment may be different. Only you and your healthcare team can decide on a COPD treatment plan that’s right for you.
Finding the right treatment options with your healthcare team is important for a number of reasons. The right treatments can help you feel better on a day-to-day basis, improve your level of activity, slow the progression of COPD, and help your breathing.
One of your lungs' most important jobs is to get oxygen to your blood. When the lungs can't get enough oxygen to your blood, your doctor may prescribe oxygen therapy. It usually improves blood oxygen levels and has been shown to help some people with COPD live longer. Some worry that oxygen therapy will make them homebound. But there are many different ways to get around while on oxygen therapy. And rather than restricting your independence, it may actually help you be more active by getting your body the amount of oxygen it needs.
A couple years ago I wasn't getting enough air at night. I didn't have apnea, but I just wasn't breathing deeply enough and I wasn't getting as much oxygen into the bloodstream, which made me tired in the morning. So I am currently on oxygen at night. And that helps a lot. It's much, much easier for me to get up and get going in the morning.
When first diagnosed, I panicked. I was emotional. I had this vision of carrying an oxygen tank or pulling an oxygen tank everywhere I went. It's not necessarily that extreme.
I use my oxygen when I'm at the gym doing my aerobic exercise. I have an oximeter which will measure the percentage of my blood that is carrying oxygen. I sleep with what is called a concentrator which is more or less like an air compressor that just gives you more of a forced flow of air containing the oxygen. I put it in my dining room. I have a 25-foot air supply tube and then a 7-foot cannula tube and to tell you the truth now I'm more uncomfortable sleeping without it than I was when I first started sleeping with it. You get used to it.
When you have COPD it's scary sometimes when you're not getting enough oxygen. I take it at night and sometimes I crank it up if I'm extremely busy around the apartment cleaning and washing dishes and making the bed. My doctor gives me the autonomy to make that decision. I have purchased an oximeter so that I can check my own saturation levels and have become very familiar with all of my equipment. If something is wrong with the equipment, I know it right away.
I was slightly embarrassed the first few times I went out. People can be nice or they can be rude, and I've had people walk up to me and say, "Do you have to wear that all the time?" Yes. You know, it's just one of those things, but you do get used to it. When you have COPD, sometimes you can't breathe really well. And if you can't breathe, nothing else matters. It's a way of life.
The Pulmonary Support Group that I'm a member of has a travel agency. Every year, they have what they call the "oxygen cruise" and they borrow wheelchairs. They borrow nebulizers. They borrow concentrators, oxygen concentrators, and they store all this stuff in storage units for about a week. They hire a truck, haul it down to New York, to the docks. The stevedores load it onto the ship and off we go on the "oxygen cruise".
When I was first diagnosed and had to bring oxygen home, I said, no, I'm not going to do it. I was embarrassed to be out seen with it. A lot of times I would fill it up, take it with me, and leave it in the car. I wouldn’t care, I wouldn’t put it on. I told myself I didn’t need it. But I did. Eventually, I would put it on, but still trying to be in the closet with it. After a point I would be around people and have it on, and they would look at me strangely. They would ask me, what are you doing with that oxygen? It’s so funny. But I came to the realization that this is how I'm going to live. And so now I'm not ashamed of it, and no one else needs to be ashamed of me with it.
A therapist at the hospital told me early on, "It's best to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it." And she was right, because early on I didn't need it 24/7, but as it's progressed, I do need it 24/7. I can go maybe an hour without it on as long as I'm sitting still. But when I move about, I have to have it on. It’s just become a part of me. I call it my other lung. This is my other lung.
Note: Store your oxygen according to instructions provided.
Short-acting rescue inhalers are sometimes called quick-relief inhalers. They help open the airways in the lungs when symptoms suddenly get worse. It's important to always carry your rescue inhaler with you in case your symptoms get worse.
The effects of most daily COPD medications last 12 to 24 hours. They're generally taken once or twice a day to help keep the airways open, and some of them can help prevent exacerbations. It's important to take your COPD daily medications regularly as prescribed by your healthcare team, even on days when you're feeling better. Also keep in mind that these maintenance medications can't replace your rescue inhaler. Be sure to keep your short-acting rescue inhaler with you at all times.
When you have COPD, preventing illness is key.
Flu shots can be a crucial element of your treatment. The flu can cause serious problems for people with COPD. Because the flu may affect your respiratory system and make it hard to breathe, it's important to get your flu shot every year.
The pneumococcal vaccine can help protect you against a common type of pneumonia. People with COPD are at greater risk for developing pneumonia, so it's important to ask if your pneumococcal vaccine (pneumonia shot) is up to date the next time you get a flu shot.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a medically
supervised program that uses exercises, including
special breathing exercises, to help you be more
active with less shortness of breath. It can
be a helpful way to try to minimize the
impact of COPD on you. Sometimes
pulmonary rehabilitation can involve a
whole team, for example, doctors,
nurses, physical therapists, respiratory
therapists, exercise specialists, and
dieticians. All of these people play
different roles. Some focus on
respiratory muscle function, while
others may work on reducing
shortness of breath during
meals by adjusting your
diet and eating habits.
It may seem like a lot, but
when it comes to your
health, the right team of
people working together
can be a huge help.
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