If you’ve ever had bronchitis, you know that the symptoms can be exhausting: coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, even at rest. For patients with COPD, this scenario doesn’t just happen occasionally; it’s a constant struggle of daily life. You may have heard of COPD before, but what is it exactly?

COPD is shorthand for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A common health condition that makes breathing difficult, COPD is actually a combination of two lung diseases: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis occurs when a person’s bronchial tubes — which are responsible for carrying air to the lungs — become inflamed and produce too much mucus. The excess mucus obstructs the airways, making it very difficult to breathe. Emphysema is a disease that damages the alveoli, or air sacs, in the lungs, causing shortness of breath and inadequate air intake.

In most cases, COPD is caused by long-term lung damage from smoking. Sadly, there is no cure for COPD, and symptoms tend to get progressively worse over time. As COPD symptoms intensify, many patients become overwhelmed by the physical stress of routine tasks like cooking, cleaning and even getting dressed. Fortunately, if you have been diagnosed with COPD, there are steps that you can take to manage your symptoms and prevent further damage:

  • Say no to cigarettes. For smokers who haven’t already kicked the habit, quitting is biggest thing you can do to keep your COPD under control.
  • Talk to your doctor about medication. Your physician can prescribe special inhaler medications like bronchodilators or steroids to help manage COPD symptoms.
  • Consider speaking with a specialist. A pulmonologist can recommend appropriate physical exercises, oxygen therapy and even breathing techniques to help improve your respiratory function.