If you’re one of the millions suffering from asthma, lung cancer or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), you know how it feels to gasp for air. You know the exhaustion, the wheezing, the coughing and the feeling that you can’t breathe. Even the smallest tasks seem overwhelming when you can’t catch your breath. But you can take steps to help alleviate the symptoms of your condition.
Many lung diseases can be managed with some combination of the following:
Medications. Don’t wait until you’re gasping for breath; take your medications exactly as you’re told to, and ask your doctor or pharmacist any questions you might have.
Rehabilitation or breathing exercises. Having COPD makes it harder to breathe. And when it’s hard to breathe, it’s normal to get anxious, making you feel even more short of breath. There are two breathing techniques that can help you get the air you need without working so hard to breathe: pursed-lip breathing and diaphragmatic (also called belly or abdominal) breathing. Ask your doctor for tips on learning these techniques.
Exercise or physical activity. Exercise can help improve how well your body uses oxygen. It can also decrease your symptoms and help improve your breathing. Your doctor can share activities that are safe for you.
Preventive measures and lifestyle changes. Get your flu shots and the pneumonia vaccine. Avoid smoking, of course — and also avoid secondhand smoke. Be sure to eat well, too. You need a nutritionally rich diet that contains adequate nutrients from foods like fruits and vegetables.
Consult your doctor
Your doctor probably gave you a treatment plan, or a list of dos and don’ts, when you were first diagnosed. It’s important that you follow this plan closely and call your doctor about any changes in your symptoms. If you can’t remember what your doctor said, don’t be afraid to call the office and ask. Remember, you are your own best advocate in the fight against your lung disease.
If your symptoms suddenly get worse, and rescue medications don’t work, you might need to go to the ER.
You need emergency help when:
You’re having trouble walking or talking.
Your heart is beating irregularly or very quickly.
Your lips or fingernails are gray or blue.
You’ve taken your medication, but you’re still breathing hard.
Plan ahead by making a list of your medicines, your doctor’s name and contact info, directions to the nearest ER, and your emergency contacts. Keep this in an obvious place, and make sure your family and friends know where it is.
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