Dear COPD Coach,
My brother smoked for 50 years. About 4 years ago I noticed his breathing was labored and it had become progressively worse over the years. He went to the hospital, and long story short, he has severe COPD (Stage 4). He has to be on oxygen 24/7. Should he be driving? It seems to me he could pass out at any time, am I right? Not to mention has is on a ton of medication and inhalers. Can he get a collapsed lung at any time which could kill him?
First of all, I have to say it…I certainly hope he quit smoking!
COPD (even at a severe stage) is generally not considered to be an exclusion for driving. As long as his oxygen saturations (the amount of oxygen in his blood) are within safe limits he should generally be fine. I had a very close COPD friend who had an FEV1 of about 15% (the percentage of expiratory volume in his lung) who drove 1,800 miles to visit a granddaughter he had never met. He also drove all over his state and was perfectly safe. He also was not only on oxygen, but very high dosages. This is the link to his story on YouTube.
One necessity for people with COPD who drive a car is to have a working cell phone with them at all times! They should also make sure they have a car charger handy. As long as a person with difficulty breathing is sitting down, they may function perfectly, but if the car broke down and they needed assistance of any kind, walking even a short distance – especially outdoors on uneven ground – would be impossible, even deadly. Thank goodness for technology!
For a person with COPD, the only concern I would have, healthwise, is if he has any co-morbidities. A co-morbidity is an illness that results from or exists with COPD. Common co-morbidities are stroke, heart disease, diabetes to name a few. Some of these might affect his ability to drive. I know of no COPD medications, other than possibly steroids, that would affect his driving. A collapsed lung would also not be a common occurrence as most people with COPD deal with hyper-inflated lungs.
I see that you are concerned, and it is great that he has someone who worries and cares about him. However, most people with COPD strive for independence, and feel the need to make decisions and feel useful! If it would make you feel better, purchase a pulse oximeter for him and have him learn how to monitor his saturations. This will not only tell you if his oxygen levels are safe, but could also indicate the possibility that he might be experiencing some problems. You can purchase one at about any pharmacy. You might also take a look at our Big Fat Reference Guide where you can learn the warning signs.
Thanks for your letter, and again thanks for your caring! Concerned caregivers are a blessing!
The COPD Coach
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