Taking Control of COPD
By Mark Mercure, Pharmacist/Owner
Home Health Care Pharmacy
The struggle with the limitations that COPD puts on an older adult can be immense. Not having the ability to tolerate exertion without becoming breathless can be both frightening and frustrating. If you or a loved one suffer from COPD, use these strategies to help take control of the disease and live life to its fullest.
COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a lung disease that occurs when the lungs become damaged and lose their elasticity. The damage is most often caused by progressive exposure to cigarette smoke or other irritants. The most important thing that a smoker who has been diagnosed with COPD can do is to quit smoking. This removes the cause of the problem and slows the progression of the decline in lung function. When someone with COPD quits smoking, their risk of death drops by 40%!
Fortunately, folks with COPD have plenty of interaction with their pharmacist, who is a fabulous resource for people who are attempting to quit smoking. Pharmacists can prescribe products that help make quitting easier, and can provide the follow up and encouragement to navigate the challenges of quitting.
Getting vaccinated against viruses and bacteria that cause lung infections is very important for COPD sufferers.
- A flu shot will cut a COPD patient’s risk of dying in half, and reduce the chance of ending up in the hospital with respiratory disease. Ask your pharmacist if you may qualify for a High Dose flu vaccine. These high dose flu vaccines are much more effective for older adults at risk, although provincial eligibility criteria for them can vary across Canada.
- A Pneumococcal-23 vaccine may be covered for adults over age 65. Check with your pharmacist if you are not sure if you have already received one dose. For some adults, a second dose may also be recommended by your doctor or pharmacist.
- A Pneumococcal conjugate (Pneu-C-13) vaccine (also known as Prevnar-13) would also be an excellent idea for those with COPD and consists of only a single shot. Your pharmacist can help you decide if it is right for you.
- Getting vaccinated against Covid-19 is also a must-do for older adults who are serious about protecting themselves from respiratory disease.
COPD is a disease that responds well to rehabilitation work on the lungs. Pulmonary rehab can reduce the shortness of breath that many COPD sufferers experience, as well as improves exercise tolerance and quality of life. A doctor can refer you to pulmonary rehabilitation in your area.
Proper use of inhalers
Even the best medication to control COPD symptoms will not be effective if it is not used properly. Unfortunately, not using medication properly is a problem for plenty of people who are prescribed inhalers for COPD. The solutions depend largely on the particular circumstances for each person.
For those who have a hard time remembering to use their inhalers regularly to prevent symptoms, a pharmacist can help align the dosing times of the inhalers with the dosing times of other medications, or can help recommend an inhaler which only needs to be used once per day.
Some people may use their inhalers less than prescribed in order to save money, as some inhalers for COPD can become quite expensive. In these instances, a pharmacist can often work with your doctor to find affordable options that fit a budget.
Others may have difficulty physically using the inhalers, or get confused about how to load and operate them. New designs of inhalers are always being released to the market, and it is important to review proper technique with your pharmacist. This will ensure that you are getting the proper amount of medication delivered to the lungs.
When people with COPD are unable to keep up with daily activities because of the breathlessness that comes with physical exertion, they also risk losing enjoyment of these activities. Mobility aids can go a long way to help people with COPD continue to enjoy their regular activities. A walker with a built-in seat is like a bench that can go anywhere, transforming an intimidating walking distance into something more manageable. A trip to the mall will be less enjoyable when the amount of walking involved leaves a person exhausted. A scooter to ride can turn that into an easy outing without leaving a person breathless. COPD does not necessarily mean you have to give up your freedom to go where you choose.
Mark Mercure is certified by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties in Geriatric Pharmacy and is the owner/manager of Home Health Care Pharmacy. He specializes in providing comprehensive medication reviews which help patients optimize medication use and avoid drug-related issues.