Day to day with COPD

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Your doctor gave you the news: you have COPD. There is no cure, but there are things you can do every day to keep COPD from getting worse, to protect your lungs, and to stay healthy.

Alternate Names

COPD - day to day; Chronic obstructive airways disease - day to day; Chronic obstructive lung disease - day to day ; Chronic bronchitis - day to day; Emphysema - day to day; Bronchitis - chronic - day to day

Manage your days

Having COPD can sap your energy. These simple changes can make your days easier and preserve your strength.

  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Give yourself more time for daily activities.
  • Take breaks to catch your breath when you need to.
  • Stay physically and mentally active.
  • Set up your house so things you use every day are easily within reach.

Learn how to recognize and manage COPD flare-ups.

Clear the air

Your lungs need clean air. So if you smoke, the best thing you can do for your lungs is quit smoking. Talk with your doctor about ways to quit. Ask about support groups and other stop-smoking strategies.

Even second-hand smoke can cause further damage. So ask other people not to smoke around you.

You should also avoid other forms of pollution like car exhaust and dust. On days when air pollution is high, close the windows and stay inside if you can.

Eat well

Your diet affects COPD in several ways. Food gives you fuel to breathe. Moving air in and out of your lungs takes more work and burns more calories when you have COPD.

Your weight also affects COPD. Being overweight makes it harder to breathe. But if you are too thin, your body will have a hard time fighting illnesses.

Tips for eating well with COPD include:

  • Eat small meals and snacks that give you energy, but don't leave you feeling stuffed. Large meals may make it harder for you to breathe.
  • Drink water or other liquids throughout the day. Six to eight cups a day is a good goal. Drinking plenty of fluids helps thin mucus so it’s easier to get rid of it.
  • Eat healthy proteins like low-fat milk and cheese, eggs, meat, fish, and nuts.
  • Eat healthy fats like olive or canola oils and soft margarine. Ask your doctor how much fat you should eat a day.
  • Limit sugary snacks like cakes, cookies, and soda.
  • If needed, limit foods like beans, cabbage, and fizzy drinks if they make you feel gassy.

If you need to lose weight:

  • Lose weight gradually.
  • Replace 3 large meals a day with several smaller meals. That way you won’t get too hungry.
  • Talk with your doctor about an exercise plan that will help you burn calories.

If you need to gain weight, look for ways to add calories to your meals:

  • Add a teaspoon of butter or olive oil to vegetables and soups.
  • Stock your kitchen with high-energy snacks like walnuts, almonds, and string cheese.
  • Add peanut butter or mayonnaise to your sandwiches.
  • Drink milkshakes with high-fat ice cream. Add protein powder for an added boost of calories.


Exercise is good for everyone, including people with COPD. Being active can build your strength so you can breathe easier. It can also help you stay healthier for longer.

Talk to your doctor about what kind of exercise is right for you. Then start slow. You may only be able to walk a short distance at first. Over time, you should be able to go longer.

Try to exercise for at least 15 minutes, 3 times a week.

If you become winded, slow down and rest.

Stop exercising and call your doctor if you feel:

  • Pain in your chest, neck, arm or jaw
  • Sick to your stomach
  • Dizzy or lightheaded


A good night’s sleep can make you feel better and keep you healthier. But when you have COPD, certain things make it harder to get enough rest:

  • You might wake up short of breath or coughing.
  • Some COPD medicines make it hard to sleep.
  • You might have to take a dose of medicine in the middle of the night.

Here are some safe ways to sleep better:

  • Let your doctor know you are having trouble sleeping. A change in your treatment might help you sleep.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Do something to relax before you go to bed. You might take a bath or read a book.
  • Use window shades to block outside light.
  • Ask your family to help keep the house quiet when it’s time for you to sleep.
  • Don't use over-the-counter sleep aids. They can make it harder to breathe.

When to call your doctor

Call your doctor if your breathing is:

  • Getting harder
  • Faster than before
  • Shallow, and you cannot get a deep breath

Also call your doctor if:

  • You need to lean forward when sitting in order to breathe easily
  • You are using muscles around your ribs to help you breathe
  • You are having headaches more often
  • You feel sleepy or confused
  • You have a fever
  • You are coughing up dark mucus
  • You are coughing up more mucous than usual
  • Your lips, fingertips, or the skin around your fingernails, are blue


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. In: Ferri F. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2014. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2013:section 1.

Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD). Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Vancouver (WA): Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD); 2013.

Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, Weinberger SE, Hanania NA, Criner G, van der Molen T, et al. Diagnosis and Management of Stable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Clinical Practice Guideline Update from the American College of Physicians, American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society, and European Respiratory Society. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(3):179-191.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 3/6/2014
  • Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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