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Canadian Med Center

Slowing COPD Progression: Preserving Lung Function and Enhancing Well-being

Tuesday 27 February 2024
8 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. Managing Lung Function with COPD

i. Follow Your Prescribed Treatment Plan

ii. Detect Exacerbations Early

iii. Enroll In Pulmonary Rehabilitation Programs

II. Enhancing Well-Being

III. Conclusion

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a progressive respiratory condition that can significantly impact your quality of life over time. If you or a loved one has COPD, the good news is there are many ways to help slow the progression of the disease and preserve lung function.

In this article, we will explore practical strategies for holistically managing COPD—focusing on preserving lung function and enhancing overall well-being and quality of life.

Managing Lung Function with COPD

an elderly man coughing into his fist

Living with COPD can be challenging as it is a progressive disease that gradually worsens over time. In the United States alone, approximately 16 million individuals are affected by COPD, and even more may be unaware that they have it. This condition can significantly limit your ability to carry out everyday activities such as walking, cooking, or even caring for yourself. [1]

While there is currently no cure for COPD, the good news is that there are effective ways to manage your lung function and improve your quality of life. You can take control of your condition by adhering to your prescribed treatment plan, being vigilant about detecting COPD exacerbations early, and enrolling in pulmonary rehab programs.

Follow Your Prescribed Treatment Plan

The key to successfully managing COPD and maintaining lung function is following the treatment plan you and your doctor created. Your treatment plan is tailored to your unique symptoms and needs. Sticking to the plan will help you breathe better, stay active, and slow disease progression. [2]

  • Medication: Your doctor will likely prescribe medications as the first line of treatment. These medicines work in different ways to control symptoms, reduce flare-ups, and improve lung capacity. Don't be afraid to discuss any concerns about side effects or ask questions to ensure you understand when and how to take them. Many people find their symptoms and lung function improve with the proper medications. If you take more than one inhaler, talk to your doctor about starting combination medications like Trelegy Ellipta. These inhalers contain two or more medicines in one inhaler for more convenience. 
  • Oxygen therapy: Supplemental oxygen is a common treatment for more severe COPD. Oxygen therapy increases oxygen flow into your lungs, relieving shortness of breath, improving organ function, and enhancing your ability to stay active. Used at rest, during exercise, and while sleeping, it helps maintain healthy oxygen saturation levels. Many patients report feeling better and being able to do more with the addition of prescribed home oxygen.
  • Non-invasive ventilation (NIV): A BiPAP or CPAP machine may be recommended for those with high carbon dioxide levels and a history of hospitalization for breathing crises. These non-invasive ventilators deliver pressurized air through a face mask to assist with breathing. These devices can decrease the risk of death and prevent re-hospitalization when appropriately used. [2]

Detect Exacerbations Early

Your COPD symptoms can fluctuate from day to day. But if your breathing difficulties and coughing suddenly worsen and persist for two or more days, you may be experiencing an exacerbation. Exacerbations are episodes where symptoms intensify, often due to an infection or environmental trigger. [3]

During an exacerbation, you may experience:

  • Severe shortness of breath that leaves you struggling for air
  • Sharp chest pains that worsen when you inhale
  • Feeling agitated, confused, or very drowsy
  • Increased sputum production [3]

Exacerbations can last for several days or even weeks if left untreated. [3] Exacerbation causes can include:

  • Viral or bacterial infection (most common)
  • Pleural effusion
  • Heart failure
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Pneumothorax
  • Smoking
  • Air pollution [4]

It's critical to contact your doctor right away if you think you're having an exacerbation. Over 80% of exacerbations can be managed without hospitalization with prompt treatment like antibiotics or steroids. [4] However, each exacerbation episode leaves permanent scarring in your lungs. The damage accumulates over time, so preventing exacerbations is key. [3]

You can reduce exacerbation risk by:

  • Following your COPD treatment plan consistently
  • Asking your doctor about alternative or additional treatments if your symptoms aren’t well-controlled
  • Avoiding irritants like smoke, pollution, and strong fragrances
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with exercise, relaxation, and good breathing techniques [3]

By staying vigilant for the signs of an exacerbation and taking proactive steps, you can detect these episodes early and work with your doctor to minimize lung damage. Together, you can develop an effective plan for managing your COPD and safeguarding your lung health over the long run.

Enroll In Pulmonary Rehabilitation Programs

Managing COPD can feel overwhelming at times, but help is available. Enrolling in a pulmonary rehabilitation program provides the support and education you need to live your best life with COPD. These programs teach you how to maintain lung function, manage symptoms, avoid complications, and properly use medications. With the right tools, you can come as close as possible to your quality of life before COPD. [5]

  • Education about COPD, symptoms, medication, and oxygen: One of the key components of pulmonary rehab programs is education. You'll receive comprehensive information about COPD, its symptoms, the medications you're taking, and even the proper use of oxygen if necessary. From understanding the anatomy of your lungs to learning the best time of day to take your medications, these programs cover it all.
  • Supervised exercise classes: Exercise classes are also integral to pulmonary rehabilitation. It's not uncommon for individuals with COPD to shy away from exercise due to difficulties in breathing. However, supervised exercise classes can work wonders for your heart and muscle strength, boost energy levels, and help you use oxygen more efficiently. In these classes, you'll be closely monitored and taught to exercise safely, paying attention to your breathing and oxygen levels.
  • Breathing techniques: You'll be taught various strategies to increase oxygen levels and better manage your symptoms. These breathing exercises can empower you to keep breathing issues in check and potentially avoid needing supplementary oxygen. If you require oxygen, you'll learn how to use it correctly to maximize your quality of life.
  • Nutritional counseling: Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for managing chronic lung diseases. Pulmonary rehab programs will teach you how to prepare nutritious meals without getting overwhelmed or fatigued. They'll emphasize the importance of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, as excessive body weight can increase shortness of breath, while low body weight can compromise your ability to fight infections.
  • Emotional health support: any chronic illness can cause you to experience depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems. Many pulmonary rehab programs offer counseling services. [5]

The knowledge and skills you acquire in a pulmonary rehabilitation program are meant to be utilized throughout your life. By implementing the techniques you learn, you can minimize the risk of hospitalization, prevent complications, and ultimately improve your overall quality of life. [5]

Enhancing Well-Being

an elderly man playing golf

While COPD currently has no cure, there are several coping strategies and lifestyle changes you can implement to enhance your well-being and avoid hospitalizations.

  • Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke: Smoking is the leading cause of COPD, and quitting can have immediate benefits. By giving up smoking, you can experience improvements in symptoms, slow down disease progression, enhance cardiovascular health, and reduce the long-term risk of lung cancer.
  • Get vaccinated: Protecting your lungs from infections is vital. Vaccination against the flu and pneumonia can protect your respiratory system from further damage. Schedule your flu shot during cold and flu season and consider getting the pneumococcal vaccine.
  • Pay attention to your work environment: If you are exposed to lung irritants such as dust and chemical fumes, have an open conversation with your supervisor. They can change your work environment, such as providing protective masks to reduce exposure.
  • Stay active: Staying physically active is key to strengthening your muscles, improving endurance, and helping your body use oxygen more efficiently. Gentle exercises like gardening, golfing, and walking are ideal because they provide exercise without overexerting your lungs.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Pay attention to your diet and incorporate regular exercise into your routine to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can exacerbate shortness of breath while being underweight can increase the risk of infections. Strive for a balanced approach to ensure optimal well-being.
  • Pay attention to air quality: Poor air quality can significantly impact COPD symptoms and increase the risk of exacerbations. By staying indoors on days when air quality is compromised, you can reduce your exposure to harmful pollutants and breathe easier. [6]

By following these recommendations, you can enhance your well-being, slow disease progression, and avoid complications from COPD. While the condition cannot be cured, many people can manage symptoms and stay active for years with proper treatment and self-care.


While COPD is a progressive disease, its progression can be slowed and quality of life improved. Slowing the progression of COPD involves a comprehensive approach that addresses both lung function preservation and overall well-being. By following a prescribed treatment plan, detecting exacerbations early, enrolling in pulmonary rehab programs, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, individuals with COPD can significantly enhance their quality of life.

To learn more about COPD, visit our dedicated COPD blog for more information.

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.