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Coping with Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Updated on October 20, 2014

There are a number of chronic lung diseases that fall under the umbrella term of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. You may have been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis or emphysema and these are the two most common diseases falling under the COPD diagnosis. You may even have both of these lung diseases.

With emphysema/COPD for example, the tiny air sacs in the lungs known as alveoli become damaged and scarred. This damage causes holes and enlarged spaces to form and normal breathing becomes very difficult. This disease is degenerative and can not be cured. Breathing difficulties will worsen over time as the damage to the lungs increases.

Healthy lung vs COPD lung
Healthy lung vs COPD lung | Source

We all need breath for life! We tend to take our lungs for granted and not even notice our breathing the majority of the time, but when you have been diagnosed with a chronic lung disease, you may well be both shocked and scared. Causes of lung diseases vary but smoking obviously can be a huge factor. If you are a smoker you have to deal with the worry of the diagnosis AND stopping smoking which can seem like an uphill struggle in such a shocked, anxious state.

You need to take things one step at a time and come to terms with your diagnosis. Once you have, you can address any obvious exacerbating factors that may worsen your condition. As the disease progresses and things get very difficult, there are certain things you can do to help keep yourself safe. You can learn better coping skills to deal with the worse days and thus lessen the chance of a crisis developing.

Oxygen concentrator machine
Oxygen concentrator machine | Source

Medical Equipment for Lung Disease

Oxygen Equipment

People who suffer with a chronic pulmonary disease will need a supply of oxygen alongside the medications that they will be taking. The NHS in the UK supplies a sufferer with an oxygen concentrator machine. They can be a bit noisy at first but you will soon not notice this. They are plugged into mains electricity and oxygen is administered through a long tube to a nasal cannula or face mask. The doctor will inform you how many hours per day you need oxygen and it is a good idea to follow this advice as closely as possible.

Too much oxygen may actually slow down the breathing and cause other nasty symptoms and even result in oxygen toxicity. The lung linings and the air sacs get further damaged if oxygen toxicity occurs.


You may get nasal irritation and dryness from the oxygen nasal cannula and if this gets too bad it might be best to ask to switch to a face mask.

It is no fun being chained to an oxygen machine many hours of the day and especially having to move around with the aid of one. The tubing is usually cut to the length you require by the oxygen suppliers but can be a safety hazard. You should avoid using any floor mats as you may trip or get the tubing caught up in them. Make sure your indoor footwear is non slip too! The less you use your oxygen machine the better really and it’s wise to take a break now and again.

Portable oxygen cylinders are wonderful for mobility reasons. A trip out for the day, a hospital visit and so on is entirely possible using a portable oxygen tank and either nasal cannula or mask. NOTE: Always make sure you have one or two tanks in reserve in case your oxygen concentrator machine malfunctions and keep one by your bed at night for the same reason.

How do I Use a Nebulizer?

If your mobility is severely restricted, in order to keep up your independence as much as possible it may be worth investing in an electric mobility scooter. This will give you more choice of activity and freedom along with the portable oxygen.

Electric nebulizers are also used regularly for suffers of lung conditions. Medication placed into the nebulizer is converted into a fine mist that is then breathed in through a face mask. As you may be given small inhalers to use with your regular medication, or for an as needed option, you should be careful not to overuse these as the same medication may be used in the nebulizer.

It will feel depressing at times to have reached these levels of losing your mobility because of your restricted breathing, but over time you will adjust to using the equipment and pace yourself accordingly. You know your limits better than anyone else but there will be days when you think life is dealing you a very bad hand and it will affect your mood. You may become very irritable and impatient. It isn’t unusual to suffer consistently with a depressed feeling and a lot of anxiety.

Anxiety and Lung Disease

It is very understandable that you will be anxious at times. People with anxiety disorders tend to over breathe and this can make it feel like it’s hard to draw a breath. You already have a medical reason to be short of breath so getting anxious on top is going to make you feel a whole lot worse. Addressing how you cope when an anxiety attack or panic attack erupts is of paramount importance to your condition. I agree it’s a vicious cycle, but panicking because you can’t breathe efficiently will make the chances of breathing efficiently less likely. Try your best not to tense up too much and in between those worst times, practice relaxing everything from your hands to your feet. If you are calmer generally speaking, you are less likely to panic easily.

Pursed lips breathing exercise

A good breathing exercise is that of pursed lips breathing. Breathe in through your nose and then pucker your lips as if you are about to whistle exhaling as you do so. Try to make the exhale at least twice as long as the inhale. You can practice this at any time and it should help to calm the shortness of breath but if you feel you are becoming anxious, try nipping it in the bud with this exercise.

General Tips for Chronic Pulmonary Disease

I have already mentioned that you should not have mats but there are mobility aids that can make living with chronic lung disease a lot easier. Bath rails and shower rails can be bought from most mobility stores and will make your bathroom much safer. Showers seem more popular with lung disease sufferers and high chairs are excellent for this. Just washing yourself takes energy so go at your own pace. A high toilet seat is a good idea as getting up and bending down alone can make you feel a little more breathless.

Electric chairs and beds are expensive but brilliant for getting in the right position so you can breathe a little easier and feel safer. My father has emphysema and he now sleeps in a very comfortable electric recliner chair because he actually prefers that to his bed!

Mobility Scooters Give you Greater Independence

Polluted air and pollens will obviously aggravate your breathing problems so be careful about opening windows on days when you know someone has just cut grass. Extreme heat and cold is likely to affect your breathing so wrap up extra warm in the winter and use fans in the summer. You could also purchase hanging radiator humidifiers to moisten the air in your rooms which will aid better breathing.

You need to feel safe in your home because this will lessen your anxiety levels, so without mollycoddling yourself it is wise to adapt your home to suit your needs. Make sure you have emergency numbers in strategic places in case of a fall or breathing crisis. What is important is that you stay mobile and independent for as long as possible. You may feel like your quality of life has reduced considerably but don’t be tempted to let others do too much for you too quickly. Exercise is also important and you need to occasionally be moving around. Chronic lung disease is debilitating and eventually life changing but even the little things you can do for yourself will give you a sense of well-being.


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    • profile image

      Mike Hanley 

      2 years ago

      Excellent discussion and all points are right on. I was diagnosed with NSIP (Idiopathic Lung Fibrosis) in January 2014 and tied to oxygen 24/7 since. I have two INOGEN portables, and two concentrators at home as I alternate. No one knows why this happened or how but at 73 I got it after a life time (highschool) to current exercising as a weightlifter/body builder, eat very lean and very little sugars and less than 100 CARBS per day. In business for myself for 48 years so one can see I took care of myself, but still no reason.

      At outset on very high dose of Prednisone 70mg than after 47 in hospital this was reduced to a low of 10mg. The disease has progressed and since 11/13/17 I have been on 30 mg Prednisone plus 100 mg IMURAN plus Sulfa-antibiotic. Gradually I increase IMURAN to 150 mg and get off of Prednisone over time. I continue to exercise with a trainer of many years. 2 X weekly with trainer and resistance training along with lots of core. Three days treadmill for minimum 39 minutes all while keeping Oximeter above 90 liters.

      On 12/5 I have 2 days of testing at St Joseph Hospital in Phoenix to determine if I am a transplant candidate. Thus far based on my Pulmonary exams and doctor, I do qualify but I am 76 so this is a critical evaluation phase.

      I could not do any of this without the love and support of my wonderful wife. I cannot imagine how it would be if there was no support. I am blessed.

      The answer to the question below by Carol Jewell is INOGEN that goes up to 6 liters. Contact them.

    • profile image

      Carol Jewell 

      3 years ago

      I need an oxygen portable concentrated that goes continuous at 5 LPM. Can't find one anywhere.

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from UK

      Thanks Linda. It is a heartbreaking condition and like any degenerative disease would test anyone to the hilt. How we cope mentally with a disease like this can play such an important role on day to day quality of life. Thanks for your comment.

    • lindacee profile image

      Linda Chechar 

      7 years ago from Arizona

      I know several people that lost their battles against of COPD. It is a heartbreaking condition that requires constant monitoring and intensive treatment, especially in its latter stages. What a comprehensive Hub regarding this group of diseases. I learned a great deal.

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from UK

      Thanks for the comment Simone. It really is a frightening condition and the added fear/anxiety makes it all the much worse!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      I had never heard of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease before. It sounds awful. At least it's good to know what one might to do alleviate it. Thanks for the introduction and overview!

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from UK

      Thanks gsidley!

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from UK

      Thank you for your comment GmaGoldie. Sufferers of lung disease are afraid of their breath and do need help to regain some confidence.

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 

      7 years ago from Lancashire, England

      Showing your versatility here, meloncauli, branching out from your mental health topics.

      As always, a well written, professional piece of writing with some superb illustrations and videos.

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      7 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Very well described. This is critical information. I believe the field of oxygen is an emerging field that will help millions. Understanding COPD is fundamental.

      When I was a group exercise instructor, my clients and my fellow instructors almost laughed at me for yelling to breath deeply. It paid off and one of my clients who has taken group classes for decades, shared with me she now can take the stairs with less heavy breathing.

      We know to exercise the heart, strengthen the muscles but the oxygen and the lungs is often forgotten. Thank you for highlighting this important health item.


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