Helping People with COPD Manage Symptoms

Senior woman in a wheelchair smiling at her caregiver

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is the term for two lung diseases: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Put simply, breathing for people with COPD is significantly stunted by an obstruction to airflow. Major symptoms include an excessively wet cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, and tightness in the chest.

By 2030, the World Bank and World Health Organization expects COPD to be the 3rd leading cause of death worldwide. COPD as a fiscal problem is a leading cause of disability-evoked joblessness.  

Family caregivers are on the frontlines of the battle to reduce this burden. While there isn’t a cure for COPD, it can be treated, and your caregiving is indispensable to a successful treatment program. Diet, exercise, and environmental maintenance are all facets in which you can significantly support someone you love with COPD. 


Eating a healthy diet ensures that people with COPD have the energy and extra calories needed to fight chest infections and to deal with their more labored breathing. Planning and preparing meals and otherwise informing your loved one about which foods to include are necessary ways you can help.  

Lethargy often stops people with COPD from eating enough calories. Starting the day with a larger, more nutrient dense meal when the senior you love has the most energy to eat can help. Following that with lighter meals during the day will not only help preserve calories, but also prevent the person from feeling too full, which can cause more difficulty with breathing. 

While a morning cup of coffee may have been the best part of waking up, unfortunately, caffeine can react in a negative way to COPD medicines and cause nervousness or restlessness, ultimately causing exacerbated symptoms. In the same way, help the senior stay away from foods high in sodium, as water retention caused by sodium also makes for more difficult breathing.

Environmental Maintenance

It’s also advisable to think about environmental problems in the individual’s home, specifically as related to air quality. A good place to get started is to keep the senior’s home appropriately ventilated through open windows, exhaust fans, and filtration systems. Nevertheless, windows should be kept closed during poor air quality days and dusty conditions, such as construction projects. Also, keeping a balanced humidity level counters dry air from home heating systems and deters irritating pests that are attracted to more humid environments.

Steering clear of fireplace and cigarette smoke, particularly cold air, and other air pollutants are ways you can best serve COPD patients, as does restricting the use of personal care products including hair sprays, perfumes, and lotions.

Keeping a tidy house can make a major difference on the amount of irritants in the house. Eliminate and properly store dust-collecting clutter. Weekly washing of bed linens reduces dust mites, as does keeping carpets vacuumed and floors clean. At the same time, decreasing exposure to harsh household cleaning products and other chemicals, like air fresheners, is essential.


Regular physical activity is essential for effective COPD symptom management. Generally, it increases endurance and improves blood circulation, making for better use of oxygen. Upper body exercises help with breathing and the ability to perform daily activities. Lower body exercises like climbing stairs and track or treadmill walking have also proven to benefit those with COPD. 

Breathing exercises, including pursed lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing, lead to stronger breathing muscles, more oxygen, and overall easier breathing. An effective routine consists of sessions of five to ten minutes, three to four times each day.

Find more resources on helping people with COPD live the most healthy life possible and how our in-home caregivers can partner with you to ensure quality, seamless care. Contact us any time online or call 940-380-0500 to learn more about our respite care in Denton and the nearby areas.