Lung bronchi congested with COPD phlegm
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Avoid Smoking With COPD

In chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), two lung diseases make breathing more difficult. Chronic bronchitis inflames and narrows airways (bronchi) and makes phlegm, while emphysema destroys parts of the lungs. If you smoke, quitting smoking can prevent more damage to your lungs. Even secondhand smoke can worsen COPD, so try avoiding it. For help with quitting smoking or avoiding secondhand smoke, talk to your doctor.

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Mature man using COPD inhaler
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Bronchodilators for COPD

Your doctor may prescribe bronchodilators to help relax the muscles around your airways, making breathing easier. Short-acting bronchodilators provide brief relief fast, while long-acting bronchodilators can relieve constriction for a long time and are often used overnight. Bronchodilators are usually taken as an inhaled medication.

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Medications and milk on bedside table
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Corticosteroids for Inflammation

Corticosteroids, also called steroids, help reduce mucus production and inflammation in your lungs, making breathing easier. Most people with COPD take corticosteroids by inhaler, but sometimes they are taken in pill form. You may need to boost your calcium and vitamin D intake if you take steroids long term, so talk with your doctor about whether you'll need supplements or a change in your diet.

Roflumilast is a drug that has anti-inflammatory properties and may be prescribed for severe COPD. 

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Nurse administering vaccine
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Vaccines: Flu and Pneumonia

If you have COPD, you're at higher risk for complications from infections like the flu, pneumonia, and COVID-19. You’ll want to do all you can to reduce your risk of illness. You should get vaccinated against seasonal flu every year and receive a pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine with a booster shot as needed. There are three approved COVID-19 vaccines. Get whichever one is first available to you. 

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Microscopic View Bacterial Lung Infection
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COPD Infections and Antibiotics

Infections can aggravate your COPD. (Here, pneumonia-causing bacteria are seen in blue on the lung’s air sacs.) If you do get a bacterial infection, your doctor will recommend antibiotics. Always finish the entire course of antibiotics, even if you start to feel better earlier. If you stop taking an antibiotic too soon, the bacteria could become antibiotic-resistant, making it harder to treat your infection.

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Small portion meal
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Nutrition: Eat Well, Breathe Better

What you eat, and how much, can affect how well you breathe. For example, having a really full stomach can make it feel harder to breathe. To keep from feeling stuffed, try having four to six small meals a day instead of three large meals. In general, eat a nutritious, balanced diet, and be physically active to help your body stay strong. 

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Mature woman using portable oxygen tank
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Oxygen Therapy and COPD

Your lungs are vital for getting the oxygen you need, but COPD reduces lung function. In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe supplemental oxygen. In addition to helping you with normal body functions, it can help increase your stamina and improve your sleep.

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Doctors reviewing lung x-ray
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Lung Surgery for COPD

In rare cases of severe COPD that doesn’t improve with medication, your doctor may suggest lung surgery. While not right for everyone, a procedure like lung volume reduction surgery can improve lung capacity and your ability to breathe. With this surgery, 20%-30% of the most diseased lung tissue is removed, leaving the healthiest part of the lung to perform better. Lung transplant surgery is another option in other severe cases.


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Woman and therapist doing breathing exercises
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Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation uses exercise, disease management, nutrition, and psychosocial counseling to help you feel better and stay active. You’ll learn techniques for staying fit and managing shortness of breath, so you can improve your quality of life, decrease the amount of time you spend in the hospital, and improve your ability to exercise.

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COPD Support Group in Midst of Discussion
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Reach Out for Support

Having COPD can leave you feeling sad, frustrated, and depressed -- all of which can make it hard to manage your symptoms. If you're having problems living with COPD, you're not alone. Reach out and get help from support groups, friends, family, or clergy. Also, the American Lung Association has Better Breathers Clubs across the country. 

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 08/30/2021 Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on August 30, 2021

1) John Bavosi / Photo Researchers, Inc.
2) Ian Hooton / SPL
3)  George Doyle / Stockbyte
4)  Peter Dazeley / Photographer’s Choice
5)  David Mack / Photo Researchers, Inc
6)  Hemera / Getty
7)  Corbis / Photolibrary
8)  Medioimages / Photodisc / Digital Vision
9)  sozaijiten / Datacraft
10) Manchan / Photographer’s Choice

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "COPD: Taking Action."
American Academy of Family Physicians: "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)."
American Lung Association: "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Fact Sheet."
American Lung Association: “Understanding COPD."
American Lung Association: "COPD Medications."
American Lung Association: "Nutrition."
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "COPD: Taking Action."
American Lung Association: "Making Treatment Decisions."
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Treatment Options."
American Lung Association: "Supplemental Oxygen."
American Lung Association: "Surgery."
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Treatment Options."
American Lung Association: "Living With COPD: Get Social Support."

Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on August 30, 2021

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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