Emphysema is a progressive disease, which means the symptoms are likely to get worse over time. Doing all that you can to look after yourself and your lungs will slow down the rate of this worsening so that you can continue to enjoy your life. If you are a smoker, stopping smoking is the most important thing you can do for your health.
The most essential step in any treatment plan for emphysema is to stop smoking but this isn’t easy for a lot of people. This task may seem particularly daunting if you’ve tried to quit and have been unsuccessful.
The first step is to talk to your doctor about nicotine replacement products and medications that might help, as well as how to handle relapses. Your doctor may also recommend a support group for people who want to quit smoking. It’s also a good idea to avoid secondhand smoke exposure whenever possible.
Stopping smoking may halt the progression of the disease and should improve the function of the lungs to some extent. Lung function deteriorates with age but smoking cessation may return lung function from this rapid deterioration to its normal rate after smoking is stopped. A doctor may be able to prescribe medications to help overcome the addiction and can also recommend behavioural therapies, such as support groups. Stopping smoking is an important step towards improving lung function and quality of life.
Effective self-management can help reduce the impact of emphysema on your day-to-day activities and improve your overall wellbeing. There are a variety of educational resources available such as pulmonary rehabilitation and support groups to help you learn about emphysema and how to manage it to improve your quality of life.
Pulmonary Rehabilitation programs are generally eight weeks long and combine exercise/education and strategies to help reduce the symptoms and keep you well and out of hospital.
People with emphysema who exercise regularly have better breathing, fewer symptoms and maintain a better quality of life. Even small amounts of regular exercise can help strengthen muscles and improve your cardiac function. Ideally the activity that you do should make you a little out of breath. Check with your doctor about the amount of activity that is recommended for you.
Keeping a healthy weight – not overweight but not underweight either – is good for your overall health. Eating a healthy diet will help you stay strong and have more energy. Make sure you are eating enough healthy foods each day to get good nutrition. Try to include the following food groups in your daily diet: complex carbohydrates, low fat protein and fresh fruit and vegetables.
In patients who are malnourished, nutritional supplementation promotes weight gain and leads to improvements in respiratory muscle strength.
Flare-ups of emphysema can be reduced or prevented by taking medications as prescribed and seeking medical care for any signs or symptoms of respiratory infection. Doctors recommend that people with emphysema should keep current on vaccines that can prevent respiratory infection. It is important to obtain the one-off pneumococcal vaccine and the influenza virus vaccine every year, before flu season.
Anxiety and depression are common in people with emphysema but it is important to realise that you are not alone. Symptoms of depression such as feelings of sadness, fatigue or hopelessness are commonly expressed in people with emphysema. Getting treatment for anxiety and depression is important for your overall wellbeing. There are a number of treatments available and your doctor will be able to advise on the most appropriate treatment for you.