Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)

Lifestyle & Management

Managing COPD

You can breathe easier and keep your COPD from getting worse if you follow these recommendations:

  • Avoid smoke and air pollution. Avoid second-hand smoke, and limit your time outdoors when air quality is poor.
  • Exercise regularly. Participate in pulmonary rehabilitation and continue the exercises once you have completed the program. Continued exercise will strengthen your breathing muscles and improve your endurance.
  • Clear your airways. Drink plenty of water to keep the mucus in your airways thinner and easier to cough up. Consider using a humidifier in your home.
  • Prevent infections. Wash your hands frequently and avoid people who are sick.
  • Vaccinations. Get a flu shot every year. Ask you healthcare provider when you need the pneumococcal vaccination.
  • Eat a healthy diet of mostly whole grains, legumes, nuts, vegetables, and fruits. Avoid extra salt and highly-processed foods.
  • Take care of your mental health. Depression and anxiety are common in people with COPD. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are feeling anxious or depressed.
  • See your healthcare provider regularly. Let your provider know if you are having worsening symptoms.

Sticking to these recommendations can help keep your disease stable for many years. 

Complications of COPD

Worsening of symptoms (flare-ups) 

Your COPD symptoms may remain stable (unchanged) for long periods. However, the condition may get noticeably worse every now and then. During these flare-ups, you may be much more short of breath. You may produce much more mucus when you cough, and get tired more easily.  These symptoms may mean that your airways are becoming more inflamed and irritated. It is important to treat these flare-ups to prevent serious illness, including worsening lung damage or failure. 

These flare-ups may be triggered by an infection from bacteria or a virus. Flare-ups may also be caused by exposure to smoke or air pollution. If a flare-up is severe, sometimes admission to the hospital is necessary.

Treatments for flare-ups include some or all of the following:

  • Steroids to decrease inflammation
  • Antibiotics to treat lung infections
  • Supplemental oxygen

Frequent respiratory infections

Your chances of getting frequent colds, flu, or pneumonia are much higher when you have COPD. 

Other complications

Many people with advanced stages of COPD experience other symptoms, including:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Heart disease, including heart attack
  • Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the blood vessels in the lungs)
  • Lung cancer


Last Updated August 2020