Can You Reverse COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) makes the tiny tubes and air sacs in your lungs floppy, inflamed, and clogged with mucus. That makes it harder for air to flow in and out, which means it’s harder to breathe.

You can’t reverse that damage once it’s happened. But there are many steps you can take to keep your symptoms under control. That can make the disease less severe and prevent more damage to your lungs.

Stop Smoking

Though some nonsmokers do get COPD, smoking is the main cause of the condition.

For those who still use cigarettes after their diagnosis, know this: It’s never too late to stop. It may be the most important action you can take to save your lungs. It’s the only scientifically proven way to keep COPD from getting worse.

Talk to your doctor about ways to quit. Tools like nicotine gum, patches, or prescription medicines may make it easier than trying to stop without help.

Don’t Be Afraid of Exercise

When you get short of breath easily, you may worry that exercise will hurt you or be too hard. But it can benefit you just as much as someone without COPD. It can improve your sleep, lower your blood pressure, and strengthen your heart, muscles, and bones. It can also ease your shortness of breath and fatigue, and help with depression.

Always talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program. You’ll want to figure out what kind of activity is best and how much you should do. Ask if there’s any type of workout you shouldn’t do.

Your program may include:

  • Stretching. It can make you more flexible and able to get around better. When you stretch before and after a workout, you help prevent injuries.
  • Aerobic activities, like walking, swimming, and climbing stairs. They will make you breathe harder but also make your heart and lungs stronger and help you use oxygen better.
  • Strengthening. Exercising the muscles of your upper body will make the muscles you use to breathe stronger.


Avoid Irritants

Your lungs are more sensitive when you have COPD, so it makes sense to stay away from anything that can irritate them. That includes secondhand smoke, air pollution, car exhaust, chemical fumes, bug spray, paint and varnish, cleaning products, mold and mildew, wood smoke, and dust. Even pleasant odors such as perfumes, fragrances, and air fresheners can irritate your lungs.

If you can’t avoid them, wear a mask or use a fan to blow fumes away from you.

If you have allergies as well as COPD, steer clear of triggers like dust, pollen, and pet dander. Talk to your doctor about treating your allergy symptoms so they don’t make your COPD worse.

Prevent Infections

COPD means you have a higher risk of complications from an infection like a cold or the flu. Learn the warning signs of an infection -- such as fever, more shortness of breath than usual, and more coughing -- so you can call your doctor right away.

To help yourself stay well:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Clean your medical devices, such as oxygen equipment.
  • Ask your doctor about getting a flu shot and the vaccine for pneumonia.
  • Stay away from anyone who’s sick and from crowds during cold and flu season. Consider wearing a mask over your nose and mouth.

Maintain Your Weight and Eat Right

Being overweight makes it harder to breathe when you have COPD. On the other hand, some people with the condition lose too much weight because they don’t feel like eating or because the extra effort of breathing burns more calories. You may use up to 750 calories a day for breathing, while someone without COPD needs only 50. Talk to your doctor about how you can get to a healthy weight.

What you eat may affect how you breathe, too. Try to cut back on carbohydrates and salt. Drink plenty of water and non-caffeinated beverages. Choose healthy foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils such as olive, corn, and canola are better for you than saturated and trans fats like butter, margarine, and lard.


Follow Your Treatment Plan

Treatments for COPD can include lifestyle changes, oral and inhaled medicines, oxygen therapy, and surgery. Though there’s no cure for the condition, you can manage the symptoms.

Follow your treatment plan, and talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Paul Boyce, MD on July 02, 2019



Cleveland Clinic: “4 Biggest Myths About Your COPD -- and How to Cope,” “COPD: Exercise and Activity Guidelines,” “COPD: Preventing Infection & Avoiding Irritants.”

Mayo Clinic: “COPD,” “COPD: Protecting against flare-ups,” “Eating Well When You Have COPD,” “COPD.”        

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “COPD.”

International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: “Improved patient outcome with smoking cessation: When is it too late?”

COPD Foundation: “Quitting Smoking.”

American Lung Association: “Physical Activity and COPD.”

Breathe: “COPD and exercise: Does it make a difference?”

American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine: “Effects of Allergic Phenotype on Respiratory Symptoms and Exacerbations in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.”

Journal of Translational Internal Medicine: “Nutrition in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A review.”

National Jewish Health: “COPD: Nutrition.”

© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.