Chronic illness warrior and natural health coach and advocate, Gina helps others thrive beyond the challenges of chronic illness.
I clearly remember the day that I was diagnosed with mild emphysema. I had come in complaining of shortness of breath. That was not unusual because I had been diagnosed with asthma some years prior. My doctor walks into the office where I was seated, looked me into my face and said, "You were wrongly diagnosed. You have emphysema.
As time went on I have had to learn how to manage COPD as well as a host of other chronic illnesses. I will share those that have worked for me in this article.
If you have other ideas, feel free to comment at the end. I welcome your suggestions.
If you're a smoker, stop smoking.
When I developed COPD I was not a smoker. I've never been a smoker, so it was hard to deal with the fact that I had an illness that was typically associated with smokers.
However, if you are a smoker, and you've developed COPD, you should stop smoking. In general, if you have COPD you should avoid smoke of any kind. You should also avoid air pollution as much as possible. If you’re not a smoker, then you definitely need to avoid places where others smoke. Smoking yourself is definitely the worst thing you can do when it comes to COPD, but secondhand smoke and air pollution can damage and irritate your lungs too.
I remember one year there were quite a few brush fires in Central Florida. This made breathing a challenge, not only for others, but especially for me having to deal with emphysema. I wore a mask for most of that time that the brush fires were burning....and even after with all the smoke in the air.
Take your medications, as prescribed.
Take your medications, as prescribed.
There are many medicines available for the treatment of COPD. Some of these medicines can be taken as pills or capsules. Some are inhaled as a mist or a powder. Different types of medications work in different ways. It’s important to understand how your breathing medications work so you can get the most out of them.
Follow your medication schedule and take your controller medicines every day, even when you’re feeling fine. If your COPD is under good control, you should not have to rely on rescue inhalers more than a couple times a week.
Get adequate sleep.
Get adequate sleep.
Getting a good night's sleep is one of the most important parts of good health.Sufficient sleep helps us think quickly, focus our attention on tasks, and perform our best at work. Sleep is also good for our hearts, our moods, and maintaining a healthy weight.
But for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), getting to sleep — and sleeping through the night — can be difficult. This can be a significant problem, since sleep is especially important when dealing with an illness like COPD. Sleep allows the body to repair itself, and not getting enough rest can weaken the immune system.
When I was first diagnosed with COPD I found it helpful to sleep on a wedge pillow which elevated my body.
When I was first diagnosed with COPD I found it helpful to sleep on a wedge pillow which elevated my body. It was very helpful to be able to elevate my upper bo
Use essential oils.
There are numerous essential oils that are very helpful for COPD:
- Tea tree
- Roman chamomile
Essential oils can be used topically or by inhalation. Some people also ingest essential oils, but I do not recommend ingestion, unless you are doing so under the supervision of a certified aromatherapist.
When using topically make sure you use a carrier oil, such as jojoba, coconut or almond oil to dilute the essential oils. You do not want to put pure essential oil on your skin. The carrier oil also helps to deliver the benefits of the essential oils deep into your skin.
My favorite way to use essential oils is through reflexology. You can see where the lungs are located based on the chart provided. Simply mix a couple drops of your chosen essential oils with a carrier oil and massage the bottom of your feet where the lungs are corresponding. I choose to massage my whole foot to get an overall body effect.
This essential oil blend is great for anyone with COPD or other respiratory issues. It contains clary sage, rosemary, cedarwood, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermi
Use essential oils.
Use oxygen, if you need to.
Use oxygen, if you have to.
I remember when I was first diagnosed with COPD, I was very embarrassed to use my oxygen tank. Then I realized that if my oxygen intake dropped too low, there could be damage to my brain among other things. I got that lesson when I landed in the ER and my oxygen was at 75%. At times it even dipped down to the 50s.
My oxygen tank is within reach and I never hesitate to use it, if I feel it necessary. I don't wait for it to drop below 90. If I am feeling a little struggle, I use it for a few minutes.
Having an oxygen tank at home has been such a life saver. Although I've had to call an ambulance before, having this available, prior to the ambulance arriving
If you have COPD, having a pulse oximeter is very helpful. THis is one item that travels with me everywhere. Not only does it check oxygen intake, but it can
Practice breathing techniques.
Practice breathing techniques.
- Practice Pursed-Lip Breathing – Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to breathing exercises for lung disease. Pursed-lip breathing is especially effective during sudden periods of shortness of breath. To master pursed lip breathing, inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through pursed lips. Practicing this method 3 to 4 times a day will allow you to use it more effectively when sudden periods of breathlessness arise.
Also called abdominal breathing or deep breathing, diaphragmatic breathing can help manage your breathlessness. This technique is particularly helpful when you have shortness of breath due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Lie down on your back, put your hands on your abdomen and relax your muscles.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose, expanding your abdomen and then filling your lungs with air.
- Hold your breath for a couple of seconds.
- Breathe out slowly through your mouth and empty your lungs completely.
- Repeat for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Do this breathing exercise 2 or 3 times a day.
Another common breathing technique that can help ease shortness of breath is pursed-lip breathing.
It can quickly slow your pace of breathing, helping you restore your normal breathing. It also helps relieve stress and anxiety.
- Sit comfortably and relax your neck and shoulder muscles.
- Keep your lips pressed together tightly, except the center.
- Inhale for a couple of seconds through your nose.
- Exhale slowly and gently through your pursed lips while counting to 4.
- Continue to inhale and exhale for another 10 minutes.
Try this breathing technique any time you begin to feel short of breath. Within minutes, you will start feeling much better.
Top 3 breathing examples for COPD: Famous Physical Therapists Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck demonstrate the top 3 exercises for COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmo
Avoid airway irritants.
Avoid airway irritants.
You must also limit your exposure to common lung irritants, such as secondhand smoke and other air pollutants. Dust, pollen, smog, pet dander and chemicals from cleaning products, paint or textiles can cause flare-ups. Even the synthetic fragrances used in air fresheners emit toxic chemicals that are bad for your lungs.
- Avoid places where others smoke.
- Avoid being around people who smoke a lot.
- Avoid highly polluted and industrialized areas.
- Try to remain indoors, especially when smog levels are particularly high.
- Keep your indoor air pollution under control with the help of an air purifier. You can also keep indoor houseplants to improve indoor air quality.
- If you have to be outside, limit your exercise or physical activity.
- When going out, wear a surgical mask to protect your lungs from irritants.
- Cut Back on Foods That Cause Gas and Bloating – The old saying “you are what you eat” certainly rings true in COPD. Certain foods, like cruciferous vegetables, beans and carbonated beverages are infamous for causing gas and bloating. Bloating increases pressure on the diaphragm which can worsen shortness of breath. If you’re particularly prone to gas and bloating, consider eliminating, or at least limiting, foods that may have a gassy effect on you. There are herbal teas such as ginger and peppermint that may help you with bloating.
- Your diet should definitely have plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits to ensure you get lots of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Citrus fruits are especially helpful because they contain quercetin. Wild-caught fish, flaxseeds and chia seeds, along with other omega-3 foods, can provide anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
- If you’re suffering with COPD symptoms, you definitely want to steer clear of conventional dairy since pasteurized dairy is mucus-producing and can plug the airways in the lungs. This has been my greatest challenge, since cheese is my weakness. I love it on pizza, as well as a snack topping on crackers, but I have learned to control how much I eat it, as well as when.
- You always want to stay away from processed, canned and frozen foods and sugar as well. Additives, preservatives and food dyes are also known for contributing to breathing issues and even asthma attacks.
- During the summer time, I drink a lot of smoothies made from fresh fruits and veggies. Shortness of breath seems to be worse for me during the hottest part of the summer, so having these smoothies helps. I still get the nutrients, but little work chewing.
Reduce indoor air pollution.
Reduce indoor air pollution.
Reduce indoor air pollution. I chnge my gilters more frequently during the summer months, as everyone is more active. We go in and out of the home, bringing dust, pollen among other irritants.
There are quite a few irritants that we may not even think about.
Radon is a radioactive, cancer-causing gas that forms in the soil. Although you can’t see, smell or taste it, long-term exposure to this invisible gas can lead to serious health consequences. In truth, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer, overall.1 Radon enters your home through tiny cracks and crevices in your floors and walls that are in direct contact with the soil.
The EPA strongly recommends that you take measures to reduce radon levels in your home “if the results of one long-term test or the average of two short-term tests show radon levels of 4pCi/L or higher”.3 If your home’s radon level exceeds this standard, the EPA suggests that you hire a contractor who specializes in radon reduction to fix it.
Secondhand smoke consists of gases and particles emitted from burning tobacco products. According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke is responsible for approximately 50,000 deaths every year.4 In addition, secondhand smoke is particularly dangerous for children; it can cause or worsen breathing problems, including asthma symptoms, and is associated with an increased risk of ear infections and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).2
The Surgeon General has concluded that there are NO safe levels of secondhand smoke exposure. To fully protect non-smoking family member and friends who spend time in your home, you MUST completely eliminate smoking in all indoor areas.
I personally do not allow anyone to smoke in or near my home. Remember your health comes first.
Gases and particles that are released from burning fuels are referred to as combustion pollutants. Sources of combustion pollutants inside the home include fuel-burning appliances that are either improperly vented or not vented at all. These include wood-burning or gas stoves, fireplaces, dryers, water heaters and space heaters. Of the most common combustion pollutants found in your home, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide are the most concerning. If you do not have a carbon monoxide detector, may I suggest you get one!
If your home is equipped with fuel-burning appliances, the EPA suggests that you make sure they are properly installed, used and maintained at all times. This is the most effective way to limit your exposure to them.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Paint – lacquer – paint stripper – cleaning supplies – what do each of these household products have in common? They contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can do major damage to anyone who’s exposed to them. Not only are VOCs extremely irritating to the eyes, nose and throat, but they can cause breathing problems, headaches, and nausea and lead to liver, kidney and central nervous system damage. Some may even cause cancer.
When using products that emit VOCs, the EPA recommends that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions precisely. Keep your home well-ventilated and never mix products together unless instructed to do so. Additionally, store and/or discard product containers safely, away from children and pets.
It’s hard to think of mold as a living organism, but indeed, it is. And like any organism, it can reproduce and grow. That’s why it has the potential to be so destructive. Mold contains spores that float easily through the air searching for damp surfaces on which to land. Inhaling or touching these spores can cause irritating symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rashes. Exposure to mold can also trigger asthma attacks.
Mold can grow virtually anywhere – including in your carpet and insulation. The best way to control mold is to control moisture. Remember to inspect your home frequently for mold and water leaks. Clean existing mold with detergent and hot water and repair leaky faucets as soon as possible. Allow areas in your home that have been exposed to water and/or moisture to dry completely.
Tea tree essential oil is great for removing mold. I use it mixed in with some water. Spray it on the areas where you have mold and let it sit.
Use steam inhalation.
Use steam inhalation
If you're having trouble breathing and are very congested, steam inhalation is a good option. It will help keep your nasal passages clear of congestion.
In addition, the heat and moisture from the steam will help break up and dissolve mucus for easy elimination from your nose, chest and throat.
All you have to do is:
- Fill a bowl with very hot water.
- Add a few drops of essential oil, such as eucalyptus or peppermint essential oil.
- Place your face over the bowl and a towel over your head.
- Inhale the steam, taking deep breaths for several minutes.
- Follow this simple remedy whenever you have nasal congestion.
As soon as the congestion clears, you will notice fewer episodes of breathing difficulty.
When you’re having trouble breathing, exercise might seem like a terrible idea, and will most certainly be the last thing on your mind. However, being sedentary won’t do anything to help your COPD symptoms. By regularly getting exercise, especially cardio workouts, you can strengthen your respiratory muscles and improve your overall endurance. Exercise also increases endorphin levels, which improves mood, reduces depression and anxiety, and makes it easier to quit smoking, if you're trying to quit.
My favorite choice for exercise is martial arts. I do Taekwondo, but Tai chi is also great for those suffering from COPD. Get up and move!
First, sit in a chair with your feet firmly on the floor and your elbows resting on your knees. Let your chest lean forward slightly and relax your neck and shoulder muscles. Or, you can try a variation of this next to a table: Sitting in a chair, lean your chest forward with your arms on a table, and rest your head on your forearms or pillows.
Find out what your triggers are. Stop exposing yourself to them!
Know what your triggers are.
You can reduce flare-ups and feel better by avoiding common breathing-problem triggers like pollution, air that’s cold or humid, pet allergens, and cleaning agents.
You’ll also want to take extra precautions against getting sick with colds, the flu, and especially pneumonia.
An air conditioner or air filter in your home can help, as can cooking with a window open or a kitchen fan running.
Eat more beetroot.
A recent study entitled “Dietary nitrate supplementation improves exercise performance and decreases blood pressure in COPD patients” suggests that supplementing nitrate in COPD patients’ diets may increase their exercise capacity while reducing blood pressure. The study was published in the journal Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry.
If your shortness of breath is due to anemia caused by iron deficiency, you can eat beetroot to improve your condition. Beetroot has high iron content as well as fiber, calcium, potassium, and vitamins.
- Extract the juice of 1 medium-size beetroot, 3 carrots, a handful of spinach and ½ sweet potato in a juicer. Drink it once daily.
Alternatively, roast 1 to 2 beetroots along with their peels on the stove. Allow them to cool, peel and then eat them with salt and pepper.
If you do not have access to fresh beetroot, you can also use the powdered form. I use this in my smoothies and I get the same benefits...although fresh is always best.
Also, if you're extremely anemic, try to include more iron-rich foods in your diet, such as liver.
Beetroot powder is a great alternative to the fresh vegetable, I use this in my smoothies, whenever fresh is not available.
Drink black coffee.
Drink black coffee.
This one sounded strange to me until I actually tried it.
A cup of black coffee can also help cure shortness of breath. The caffeine in coffee helps reduce respiratory muscle fatigue and improves airway function modestly.
Drink 1 to 2 cups of strong, black coffee to relieve shortness of breath and restore your normal breathing.
Caution: Do not drink coffee in excess as it may raise your heart rate and blood pressure.
Drink black tea for COPD.
Drink black tea
Black tea is full of tannins and chemicals which not only destroy the harmful bacteria and viruses but also boost immunity and strengthen the lungs. The hot tea brings relief in the chest pain and helps the mucous to flow out of the nose or helps it to be expelled through the cough. Brew a cup of black tea and squeeze the juice of one lemon into it. Stir in a teaspoon of honey and drink this, three times daily.
I also have a special herbal blend consisting of herbs that are great for the lungs such as :
- Wild cherry bark
One of the common and frustrating COPD symptoms is having mucus collect in your airways. This mucus can be difficult to clear and result in persistent and uncontrollable coughing. One internal way you can improve this mucus problem is by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Drink at least eight glasses of water daily to thin the mucus and stay hydrated.
Talk to your doctor to find out how much water you can safely drink, because some people with COPD have conditions that could be made worse by extra fluid.
Externally, you can increase the moisture content of the air in your home by using a humidifier. Humidifiers can also help make breathing easier. I like using one while I’m sleeping at night.
You can increase the moisture content of the air in your home by using a humidifier. Humidifiers can also help make breathing easier. I like using one while I’m
Get plenty of rest.
Stop using up too much of your energy. You deserve a good night's sleep. It's even more important when you're living with COPD, since a better night's sleep can give you more energy for day-to-day activities.
Avoid stress. This is certainly more easily said than done. You have shortness of breath. You struggle to breathe. You get stressed out because you're struggling to breathe.
Stress due to COPD is different from everyday stress. When you live with COPD, the anxiety caused from being short of breath is always with you. Stress and COPD are closely linked because everybody has an alarm system deep in their brains that detects a breathing problem. If your "breathing alarm system" detects that you're not getting enough air, it sends out a warning that feels like a sudden rush of anxiety. When you have COPD, you’re always struggling to get enough air, so your alarm system can become hyperactive. That can be a constant source of stress.
Try those breathing techniques that I mentioned earlier.
Get some exercise....even if it is just a little walking. Do not overdo it.
Have a great support system.
If you're having a difficult time, see your doctor. Let him how you feel and see if he can help you. He or she could recommend some relaxation techniques for you to incorporate into your daily activities. Your doctor can also recommend some pulmonary rehabilitation programs that you may consider.
Stress is part of everyone's life, but stress with COPD can be more taxing and dangerous. If not managed, it can make your COPD worse.
Ginger is by far my favorite herb, next to turmeric.
Ginger is found in every home and is widely used in day to day cooking and in treating a number of ailments and dysfunctions of the body. It has a stimulating effect on the lungs and acts as an expectorant. It is an excellent expectorant that can help treat chest or nasal congestion that may cause breathing difficulty. In addition, it helps fight off any kind of throat and respiratory tract infection.
- Drink 2 to 3 cups of ginger tea daily. To make the tea, add 1 tablespoon of freshly chopped fresh ginger slices to 2 cups of boiling water. Cover and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain, add a little honey and sip the tea slowly. You can also add a slice of lemon to the tea.
- Also, chew small ginger pieces or ginger candies to get rid of congestion.
Turmeric, containing the active ingredient curcumin, is one of nature's most powerful healers. The medicinal properties of this spice have slowly revealed themselves over the centuries, and turmeric is now documented as effective in conditions ranging from cancer to Alzheimer's disease. New research is now, also, revealing its benefits as a preventative and treatment for lung, colon, and liver diseases. The curcumin acts as an inhibitor for the airway inflammation that occurs with COPD.
Turmeric is one herb that I use everyday, either in capsules combined with ginger, black pepper and frankincense, in tea form or in cooking. It is a staple in my home. I even add it to my smoothies to make them a great powerful antiinflammatory beverage.
Recommendation for COPD patients, especially those with frequent, productive coughs poorly controlled with medication, is six 400mg capsules in the morning just before breakfast and another three 400mg capsules in the mid-morning - a total of 3600mg daily.