Living with COPD

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With proper treatment and management, many people are able to maintain a good quality of life while living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). There is no cure for this disease, but there are a number of measures you can take to improve daily living and prevent COPD from getting worse.

Keep Your Lungs Healthy

People living with COPD should take extra care to protect their lungs and stay healthy. Some ways to stay healthy include:

  • Quit smoking. Smoke irritates the lungs and makes it harder to breathe. Visit our Quit Smoking pages for more information and resources.
  • Live smoke-free. Avoid secondhand smoke whenever possible. Make your home and car smoke-free spaces using RHA’s smoke-free resources. Ask people not to smoke around you.
  • Eat right. People who have COPD spend more energy breathing, so proper nutrition is an important part of staying healthy and active. Check out our Nutrition & COPD fact sheet for more information.
  • Avoid chemicals. It may help your breathing to not wear or use scented products, such as perfume or hairspray. When cleaning, avoid harsh chemicals and use scent-free, natural products, which are typically less toxic.
  • Monitor air quality. Stay active but safe. Know the outdoor air quality where you live. Harmful chemicals can linger in the air on days that are hot, sunny and humid with little wind, causing poor air quality. On these Air Pollution Action Days, it’s particularly important to stay inside.
  • Get a seasonal flu vaccination every year. Influenza and other respiratory infections can lead to serious complications in people who have lung disease.

Treating COPD

COPD Medications

There are many kinds of COPD medications. People who have COPD might need to take a number of them. It’s important to know what the medications are, when to use them, and how to take them so that you can better manage the disease.

Oxygen Therapy

Supplemental oxygen is often prescribed for people with severe COPD. Changes occur in the lungs of COPD patients. These include narrowing of the airways and the destruction of lung tissue. These changes can make it harder to breathe. Therefore, the amount of oxygen that reaches the blood is not enough to meet the body’s needs. Oxygen therapy can help control this problem.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a great way for a person with COPD to learn how to better manage symptoms. Pulmonary rehabilitation helps control the impact of COPD through exercise, education, and support. Through pulmonary rehabilitation, someone living with COPD may become more independent and meet other people who have COPD. This can reduce pressure on a caregiver, too.


Exercise strengthens all muscles, including the ones used to breathe. It can improve and maintain lung function and give people who have COPD more confidence in their ability to complete everyday activities and maintain their independence.

It’s important to speak to a health care provider before beginning an exercise program. A health care provider can recommend what kinds of exercises are right for you and what will work best for your COPD. Consider joining a pulmonary rehabilitation group.

Additional Treatment Options

Ventilatory support, or noninvasive ventilation, is used with some COPD patients to treat flare-ups. Examples include Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) and Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP). Ventilatory support is usually not used for those with severe COPD. People with severe COPD might need more support.

Bullectomy is a procedure for patients with bullous emphysema – lungs with severe emphysema that contain air and/or fluid filled pockets. These pockets can cause further obstruction and increase pressure in the lungs. In carefully selected individuals, this procedure is effective in short-term reduction of shortness of breath and improvement in lung function.

Lung Volume Reduction Surgery (LVRS) is a procedure in which damaged parts of the lung(s) are removed to improve lung function. This procedure helps alleviate symptoms for a short time and is typically only recommended in carefully selected individuals with severe COPD.

Lung transplantation (including single-lung transplants) for appropriately selected individuals with severe COPD has been shown to improve quality of life. Specific guidelines are followed when selecting candidates for lung transplantation.


For more resources, check out the COPD section of our Library.