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Self-Care & Coping with Emphysema
If you have emphysema, you can take a number of steps to halt its progression and to protect yourself from complications:
- Stop smoking. This is the most important measure you can take for your overall health and the only one that can halt the progression of emphysema. Join a smoking cessation program if you need help giving up smoking. As much as possible, avoid secondhand smoke. Sit in nonsmoking areas when you're out, and ask family and friends not to smoke in your home.
- Avoid other respiratory irritants. These include fumes from paint and automobile exhaust, some cooking odors, certain perfumes, even burning candles and incense. Keep the humidity level in your home at 40 percent to 50 percent, and change furnace and air conditioner filters regularly to limit pollutants.
- Exercise regularly. Try not to let your breathing problems keep you from getting regular exercise, which can significantly increase your capacity for physical activity. Simple breathing techniques also can help.
- Clear your airways. With emphysema, mucus tends to collect in your air passages and can be difficult to clear. To keep secretions thin and easy to bring up, drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids every day.
- Protect yourself from cold air. During cold weather wear a soft scarf or a cold-air mask — available from a pharmacy — over your mouth and nose to warm the air that's entering your lungs. For the same reason, breathe through your nose because cold air can cause spasms of the bronchial passages.
- Avoid respiratory infections. Get a pneumonia vaccination as advised by your doctor and an annual influenza (flu) shot. A pneumonia vaccine should be effective for several years and is not needed annually like the flu vaccine. Do your best to avoid direct contact with people who have a cold or the flu. If you have to mingle with large groups of people during cold and flu season, wash your hands frequently and carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket or purse. Try to avoid touching the inside of your nose or rubbing your eyes, which is the way you pick up most viral infections.
- Maintain good nutrition. A well-balanced diet gives your body the nutrients it needs for energy, for building and maintaining cells, and for regulating body processes. Work toward and maintain a desirable body weight. Being overweight requires more oxygen and can interfere with breathing (Editor's Note: so lose weight ASAP. If you're underweight, achieving a healthy weight may increase your strength. When the effort to eat is taxing, you may need to eat smaller meals more frequently. Some people are helped by eating their larger meal earlier in the day and avoiding lying down after meals. Choosing soft, easy-to-digest foods such as yogurt, rice, baked potatoes, and baked chicken or fish also may help. Fruits with high vitamins like cantaloupe and tangerines are also good. Herbs can also be helpful.
- Express your feelings. Having emphysema or COPD may cause a gradual change in your lifestyle and that of your family. Share your feelings and concerns about your disease with your family, friends and doctor. Be alert to changes in your mood and your relations with others. Living with emphysema can be difficult. Don't be afraid to seek counseling if you feel depressed or overwhelmed.
- Consider joining a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease support group. You may also want to consider joining a support group for people with emphysema. Although disease support groups aren't for everyone, they can be a good source of information about new treatments and coping strategies. And it can be encouraging to be around other people who are meeting the same medical challenges you are. If you're interested in a support group, talk to your doctor. Or contact your local chapter of the American Lung Association.
Coping with Emphysema Skills
Some simple exercises can improve your breathing if you have emphysema or another chronic lung disorder. They help you control the emptying of your lungs by using your abdominal muscles. Do them two to four times daily.
To perform this type of breathing exercise, take these steps:
- Lie on your back with your head and knees supported by pillows. Begin by breathing in and out slowly and smoothly in a rhythmic pattern. Relax.
- Place your fingertips on your abdomen, just below the base of your rib cage. As you inhale slowly, you should feel your diaphragm lifting your hand.
- Practice pushing your abdomen against your hand as your chest becomes filled with air. Make sure your chest remains motionless. Try this while inhaling through your mouth and counting slowly to three. Then purse your lips and exhale through your mouth while counting slowly to six.
Practice diaphragmatic breathing on your back until you can take 10 to 15 consecutive breaths in one session without tiring. Then practice it on one side and then on the other. Progress to doing the exercise while sitting erect in a chair, standing up, walking and finally, climbing stairs.
Try the diaphragmatic breathing exercises with your lips pursed as you exhale, that is, with your lips puckered — the flow of air should make a soft "sssss" sound. Inhale deeply through your mouth and exhale. Repeat 10 times at each session.
While sitting or standing, pull your elbows firmly backward as you inhale deeply. Hold the breath in, with your chest arched, for a count to 5, then force the air out by contracting your abdominal muscles. Repeat the exercise about 10-times.