Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)

Lifestyle & Management

Have regular check-ups with your healthcare provider if you have COPD, so that any complications are treated quickly. This will reduce damage to your lungs. 

Managing COPD

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

  • Avoid cold air, which can trigger spasms in your lungs.
  • Stay away from crowds, to lower your chances of catching a cold or flu.
  • Wash your hands often to reduce your chances of getting infections.
  • Follow a good respiratory rehabilitation program.
  • Make sure no one smokes in your home, your car, or around you.
  • Keep your home as free of dust as possible.
  • Wash bed linens weekly in hot water.
  • Get rid of curtains, carpet, and rugs.
  • Have your caregivers use a high-efficiency vacuum with a HEPA filter, but only when you are out of the room. Vacuuming stirs up dust.
  • Avoid fireplace smoke.
  • Steer clear of products with strong chemical smells, such as paint, cleaners, insecticides, and even perfume and scented lotions.
  • Drink plenty of water. This helps thin out the mucus in your airways, making it easier to cough up.
  • Use a humidifier at home.
  • Get an annual flu shot and a pneumonia vaccine.
  • Eat a healthy diet.

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 phlegm (mucus) when you cough, and get tired more easily.  Your airways become inflamed and irritated, and breathing takes much more effort. Untreated, your lungs suffer more damage and may even fail. 

These flare-ups may be triggered by an infection from bacteria (germs) or a virus. (This is found in about half of the cases of flare-ups.) Flare-ups may also be caused by environmental factors such as smog or air pollution, cigarette or fireplace smoke, or cold temperatures. 

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

  • Steroids taken by mouth or through an intravenous tube (IV)
  • Antibiotics to treat lung infections
  • An admission to the hospital to receive extra oxygen from oxygen therapy

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:

  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Weight loss
  • Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
  • A faint blue color on the skin and lips
  • Osteoporosis
  • Loss of muscle mass


Last Updated October 2017