Health – Coping with COPD

It’s the fourth leading cause of death in the world and yet many of you will never have heard of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

This is an umbrella term used to cover conditions that permanently damage our airways such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma.

Symptoms may include unexplained breathlessness or wheezing, a cough that doesn’t go away and coughing up mucus, especially in the morning. It’s estimated that 15 percent of New Zealanders over 45 live with this condition, but it often goes undiagnosed as many people think that symptoms are a natural part of aging or becoming less fit.

Sadly the damage caused to our lungs by COPD is permanent, however there are a range of treatments available to help prevent further damage and certainly the earlier the diagnosis, the better.

So what can you do to help yourself if you have been diagnosed with COPD?

• Find a good pharmacist as they can help you figure out how to take your medicines so that you get the best results. Inhaler techniques, dose timing and measuring response are all things your pharmacist can help you to optimise. After all, why take medications if you’re not going to get the best out of them?

• Get better at breathing- it’s something we take for granted, but you’d be amazed how the simple act of breathing can be improved. Ask your doctor to refer you for pulmonary rehabilitation classes or speak to a specialised physiotherapist about breathing exercises.

• Be smoke/vape free – again, your doctor or pharmacist can help with smoking cessation.

• Be active – exercise is important for managing your COPD. Start small and build up slowly over time.

• Eat well and maintain a healthy weight, because if you are overweight you may become more breathless as your body works to carry the extra weight. Some people with COPD may lose their appetite, but it is important to eat well so your body has enough energy for the extra effort required to breathe.

• Get vaccinated – both flu and Covid-19 vaccinations are available from your doctor or pharmacy.

• Go natural – some studies suggest a role for N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) to help break down mucus and avoid exacerbations. Ask your pharmacist about the correct dose.

• Maintain a warm, well-ventilated home, free of mould which can cause your condition to flare up.

• Keep in touch with your healthcare team – your doctor, pharmacist and physiotherapist are all there to help you.

Note: With the government axing the $5 prescription tax in its recent budget, services at your local community pharmacy are even more accessible.