Nurse specializing in lung health

Breathing new life into treating COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD, is a disease that makes it difficult for people to breathe. A COPD diagnosis can be frightening, especially because it’s a progressive disease that can get worse over time. The good news is not only can COPD be managed with proper treatment, but small lifestyle changes can help patients live a happy, healthy life.

Bayhealth Kent General Respiratory Therapy Navigator Crystal Hiser, RRT, BS, said living with COPD is challenging but there are steps patients can take to help improve their lives. “You can’t reverse the COPD diagnosis, but there are things we can work on to slow down the progression of the disease and enhance a person’s quality of life,” said Hiser. She goes over these strategies while working with patients in the hospital.


“If you continue to smoke, you’re only going to get worse and your symptoms will be more difficult to manage.” Bayhealth offers a Tobacco Cessation program to help community members quit smoking; it’s free to all Delaware residents. “This seven-week program offers members support and guidance to quit smoking,” Hiser said. The next session starts Oct. 11, 2016.

For more information, visit Bayhealth's Classes and Events page or call Clinical Educator Terry Towne at 302-744-6724.


Believe it or not, COPD patients suffer from different issues during each season. When fall turns to winter the flu, pneumonia, and indoor allergens such as dust mites and pet dander can cause a COPD flare-up. Keeping air clean can help prevent difficulties with breathing. The spring and summer time can bring seasonal allergies, humidity, high temperatures, and poor air quality.


“When you have COPD, breathing requires more energy. A COPD patient’s muscles have to work ten times harder to breathe,” Hiser said. “This makes COPD sufferers more susceptible to illness such as the flu and pneumonia, making the vaccinations vital to their health.” Hiser also recommends individuals wash their hands frequently and avoid contact with sick populations to help reduce the chance of infection.


Eat four to six small meals instead of three big ones because digestion requires energy and energy requires oxygen. If continuous oxygen is prescribed, don’t take off the oxygen nasal cannula while eating since eating requires energy. Stay away from carbs and limit salt intake. Eating foods with calcium and Vitamin D is essential as well as eating a protein at every meal. Meals on Wheels is available to help patients with nutritious, low-cost meals.

“Living with COPD can be draining, so it’s important to start the day off with a nutritious breakfast to help maintain energy throughout the day,” Hiser said. An example of a good fiber-filled breakfast is a bowl of bran cereal with whole wheat toast.


Avoiding physical activity can make a patient more unfit. Hiser said it’s extremely important for patients to be physically active as it improves lung strength and will give them more energy. Services at Bayhealth can help patients with building this strength. The Pulmonary Rehab and Maintenance program at Bayhealth helps COPD patients increase muscle strength and improve their quality of life.

“Patients have been extremely successful in this program, including a few cases of overcoming the need to use oxygen,” Hiser said. “Moreover, being physically active can help prevent a COPD exacerbation or make it less severe.”

For more information on the Pulmonary Rehab at Bayhealth, call 302-744-7402 for Kent General or 302-430-5706 for Milford Memorial.


Anxiety is a major problem for COPD sufferers. Hiser said it’s important for COPD patients to reduce their stress. Some methods of doing so are listening to music, exercising, talking about your feelings, or meditating. When stress isn’t managed well, the heart, brain, muscles, and lungs can be become overloaded, which has an effect on your breathing.


Learning more about your disease can help you know how to feel better. “The Better Breathers Club is a support group for individuals living with COPD and their family members,” Hiser said. “At every meeting, we give educational lectures; discuss medications, nutrition, and physical activity; and much more.” Self-education is vital to living a healthy life with COPD.

For more information, visit Bayhealth's Classes and Events page or call Clinical Educator Terry Towne at 302-744-6724.

Hiser encourages patients to take charge of their health and ask a physician to test them for COPD, when it’s suggested they have the disease. A clinical diagnosis of COPD should be considered in any patient who has a chronic cough, sputum production, dyspnea, and a history of exposure to risk factors. The goals of a COPD assessment are to determine the severity of the disease, the impact on health status, and the risk of future events in order to guide the patient’s therapy. There are a variety of treatment options depending on the diagnosis.

“If a patient has been told they probably have COPD, it’s imperative they get tested and start a treatment regimen. Otherwise, their health could possibly decline,” Hiser said.

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