For most people, breathing is one of the easiest things we do. In fact, we rarely think about it unless we catch a cold or overexert ourselves. But for those who suffer from breathing-related illnesses, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and nasal allergies, every breath can be a struggle.
If you have trouble breathing, you should see a doctor immediately. Finding out what is causing your difficulty is the first step toward learning to manage it with treatment or medication. And once you know you have allergies, asthma, COPD or some combination, your doctor can help identify the triggers that lead to attacks or worsening conditions. By avoiding those triggers, you can lessen the impact your condition has on your breathing.
One of the biggest triggers — and in some cases the cause — of your breathing-related illness is smoke. If you are a smoker, stop. It may not be easy, but it’s worth it. Quitting smoking is the single most important thing a smoker can do to live a longer and healthier life. Smoking not only causes COPD, but makes it worse and leads to asthma and allergy attacks. Quitting also reduces your risk of lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and other cancers. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. And avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
Here are some specific guidelines to help you manage your condition.
Your doctor can test you to help determine specific allergens that trigger your reactions. By identifying them and avoiding them, you can minimize your allergic reactions. Common allergy triggers include:
- Pet dander and saliva
- Dust mites
Some solutions for creating a more breathing friendly home are to keep your windows closed, avoid using fans, use a dehumidifier to reduce mold and wash sheets and pillowcases at least once a week.
Many allergy triggers can also cause your asthma symptoms to worsen. Triggers vary from person to person, so it is important to know yours and minimize your exposure. Don’t try to just cope with your asthma — work with your health care provider toward your asthma control goals. If your doctor prescribes medication, take it as directed. To make sure you don’t miss a dose, make sure you refill your prescription, develop a routine, set an alarm or sign up for a free online medication reminder service.
Smoking is the leading cause of COPD, but other lung irritants can contribute to COPD. Examples include secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes and dust.
If you have COPD, it's important to get ongoing medical care. Though there is no cure for COPD, you can manage its symptoms. Take all your medications as prescribed by your doctor, and ask whether and when you should get flu (influenza) and pneumonia vaccines.
Other COPD tips:
- Do activities slowly.
- Put items you need often in one place that's easy to reach.
- Find simple ways to cook, clean and do other chores.
- Ask for help moving things around in your house.
- Keep your clothes loose, and wear clothes and shoes that are easy to put on and take off.
If you have COPD, you may have trouble eating. If that is the case, you may not get all the calories and nutrients you need. Talk with your doctor about an eating plan that will meet your nutritional needs.
Also, talk with your doctor about what types of physical activity are safe. COPD makes it hard to be active, but physical activity can strengthen the muscles that help you breathe and improve your overall wellness.
No matter what your breathing-related condition may be, working with your health care provider to manage or treat your symptoms can help you breathe easier.