Home Remedies for COPD
Lifestyle Changes Count
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a serious long-term condition. Though no treatment can undo the damage that COPD does to your lungs, symptoms can be managed. Control your discomfort, reduce your risk of complications, and improve your quality of life by taking some simple steps at home.
According to the American Thoracic Society (ATS), about 90 percent of people with COPD get the disease from smoking (ATS, 2005; American Lung Association, 2011). Quitting is the most important lifestyle change a smoker can make to ease COPD symptoms. For example, smokers with COPD lose lung tissue at a much faster rate than nonsmokers. When you quit smoking, you can slow the rate of loss. There are many resources to help you quit, including smoking cessation programs and support groups. Ask your doctor for a list of resources to help you kick the habit.
Staying physically active is the second most important thing you can do at home to help manage symptoms of COPD. It may seem counterintuitive to exercise when you have a breathing condition, but according to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise can actually strengthen your respiratory muscles, improve your breathing and your overall strength and endurance (Mayo Clinic, 2011). Any activity that gets you moving can be helpful. Try walking, gardening, golfing, or even shopping.
Eating healthy foods and maintaining a proper weight can significantly help with breathing. Some people with COPD have trouble maintaining a normal weight. You may be underweight because difficulty breathing will cause you to burn more calories than the average person does. Or you may be overweight because of a nutritional imbalance or lack of exercise. A special diet isn’t necessary for people with COPD. However, ATS recommends eating a healthy variety of foods, limiting your salt intake, and eating smaller meals more frequently, which can help you to maintain proper weight
Certain breathing positions and relaxation techniques can help you breathe more efficiently throughout the day. According to the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), pursed-lip and diaphragmatic breathing may increase your blood oxygen levels and help reduce shortness of breath. (Coen, 2008). Ask your doctor or a respiratory therapist how to practice these techniques efficiently. The Mayo Clinic also recommends drinking plenty of fluids and using a humidifier to keep your airways as clear of mucus
Develop Good Medication-Taking Habits
While your doctor is the one who decides which medications you should take, your actions at home can ensure that your treatments are as effective as possible. Before you leave your doctor’s office, be sure that you understand why you’re taking the COPD medications you’ve been prescribed. Ask your doctor to explain anything that’s unclear about how to take your medications. If you use inhalers to help you breathe better, be sure to refill them before they run out rather than waiting until they’re empty. If a certain medicine is giving you problems, tell your doctor. Don’t stop taking any medication without discussing it with your doctor first.
When you have COPD, it’s important to avoid situations that can aggravate your symptoms. Cold air can trigger bronchospasm, a sudden constriction in the muscles of airway walls that leads to shortness of breath. Avoid going out in the cold if possible, or put on a cold-air face mask before leaving the house. Respiratory infections can cause COPD symptoms to worsen, so stay away from crowds if possible. If you must be in a crowded area, the Mayo Clinic recommends wearing a surgical mask (Mayo Clinic, 2011)
Take Care of Emotions
The changes in your life caused by COPD and its symptoms may cause you to experience some difficult emotions. Grief, anger, anxiety, and depression are all normal responses to chronic illness. However, it’s still important to manage them. The Cleveland Clinic recommends keeping up with activities that you enjoy, staying involved with others, and going outside for frequent walks to help you deal with emotional difficulties (Cleveland Clinic, 2012). If you have trouble coping on your own, your doctor may recommend professional counseling or another form of treatment.
Stress can exacerbate COPD symptoms like shortness of breath, so it’s important to manage the level of stress in your life. You cannot avoid all stress, but you can work on reducing the stressors you’re exposed to and make an effort to practice being more calm and relaxed. AARC recommends taking some time each day to unwind, both physically and mentally. You can relax by napping, listening to soothing music, reading quietly, or doing something that you find enjoyable and soothing.
Get More Information
Though home remedies can make a big difference in how you feel, be sure to visit your doctor regularly for help with symptom management. Follow your doctor’s advice on the best way to treat your disease, because the steps you take now can help you breathe easier and live a longer, more active life.
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Evidence from three double-blind placebo-controlled studies enrolling a total of 49 individuals suggests that the supplement L-carnitine can improve exercise tolerance in COPD, presumably by improving muscular efficiency in the lungs and other muscles. 19-21
Eucalyptus is a standard ingredient in cough drops and in oils sometimes added to humidifiers. A combination essential oil therapy containing cineole from eucalyptus, d-limonene from citrus fruit, and alpha-pinene from pine has been studied for a variety of respiratory conditions. Because these oils are all in a chemical family called monoterpenes, the treatment is called essential oil monoterpenes . A 3-month, double-blind trial of 246 individuals with chronic bronchitis found that oral treatment with essential oil monoterpenes helped prevent acute flare-ups of chronic bronchitis. 27 A previous double-blind study, too small to provide reliable results, hints that oral use of essential oil monoterpenes can enhance the effects of antibiotics for acute flare-ups once they do occur. 26 It is thought that essential oil monoterpenes work by improving the lungs’ ability to clear secretions. 28
A mixture of extracts from echinacea , wild indigo , and white cedar has shown promise for treating a variety of respiratory infections. A well-designed double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 53 people tested its benefits in acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis. 6 All participants in this trial received standard antibiotic therapy. The results showed that people receiving the herbal medication experienced more rapid improvements in lung function than those given placebo.
The herbs ivy leaf and plantain have been suggested for chronic bronchitis, but there is no meaningful evidence that they actually help. One study failed to find pomegranate juice helpful for COPD. 39
Observational studies suggest a correlation between respiratory problems and diets low in antioxidants from food, such as vitamin A , vitamin E , vitamin C , and beta-carotene . 29-33 However, such studies don’t prove that taking supplements of such nutrients will help—only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can do that. (For information on the reasons why, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies? ) Indeed, a double-blind study of vitamin E and beta-carotene supplementation found no effect on COPD symptoms. 34