Dear COPD Coach
My husband has severe COPD and for the last month he is getting out of breath whenever he eats, showers or does any activity that he has to exert energy. Is this normal?
What you are describing is very common with COPD. However, the fact that all of these problems seem to have shown up suddenly, it might well be a sign of an exacerbation. An exacerbation is when COPD symptoms flare up. It could be related to such things as high pollen count, change of weather, or more significantly, might be signs of an infection or inflammation. I would definitely talk with your doctor!
If it isn’t an exacerbation, it most probably indicates COPD progression. Getting out of breath after eating is often a result of hyper-inflated lungs. As COPD progresses, the lungs actually become larger and can push against the stomach. After eating large meals, the stomach in turn presses against the lungs resulting in the person feeling more out of breath. If your husband is experiencing this, the
best remedy is for him to eat smaller meals, more often. He should also avoid certain foods that can cause gas or bloating. If he is at or below ideal body weight, have him eat foods that are high in calories. Avoid salt as much as possible since salt can cause him to retain fluid, feel bloated, and increase the workload on his heart. Avoid simple carbohydrates (a few examples are white sugar, cake, fruit juice, bread and pasta with white flour)as these cause CO2 build-up in the blood causing less available oxygen. If he does eat foods containing carbohydrates, keep to complex carbohydrates like those found in fruits, vegetables and whole grain bread.
As for getting out of breath while showering, here are a couple solutions. First, try lowering the temperature of the water and keeping the door of the shower partly open to get rid of the steam. If you have an exhaust fan, be sure to run it during and immediately after showering. Use a shower seat (standing up and washing yourself is a lot of work.). A large handled bath brush can be a real help! Instead of drying with a towel, get an absorbent terry cloth robe so after the shower he can sit while it dries his skin.
Getting out of breath during exertion can be helped in a couple ways. Primarily, the best way is “plan ahead and take it slow.” Suggest that he ecides ahead of time what he needs to accomplish, figure out the best way to do it, and then proceed slowly while stopping when he begins to feel out of breath. It is very important that you discuss with his doctor about enrolling in pulmonary rehabilitation. A certified pulmonary rehabilitation program can teach your husband some valuable tools such as how to safely accomplish exertions, how to eat properly, shortcuts to good hygiene and how to properly use medications. However, the biggest advantage to pulmonary rehabilitation is that the exercises that he learns will improve endurance lessening getting short of breath.
As a caregiver, it is important that you learn to spot signs of exacerbations. A good source of information is our Big Fat Reference Guide which you can download free at www.bfrg.org.
Let us know if there is anything else we can help you with.
-The COPD Coach
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