How to Stop COPD Relapses

Author: Maine Veterans' Homes
Posted: April 17, 2017
Category: Veteran Health & Wellness

For seniors with COPD and related respiratory issues, one of the top culprits of an emergency room visit or hospital re-admission is medication mismanagement, says an expert nurse practitioner.

“There used to be one kind of inhaler and one type of delivery system. Now, there are multiple and various medications. People simply don’t know how to use them correctly,” says Mary DeSalle, an 18-year geriatric nurse practitioner and the Care Transition Coordinator at Maine Veterans’ Homes in Scarborough.

For those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), proper treatment is vital to slowing the progression of the disease that has no cure. With veterans being three times more likely to develop COPD, it’s key for all veterans to understand COPD and how to manage it.

Using an Inhaler for COPD

The variations in inhalers and medications are part of the reason Maine Veterans’ Homes developed a Care Transition Program for its residents with COPD. The program provides education and training for those transitioning from hospital to skilled rehab care at Maine Veterans’ Homes to home.

“For those with COPD, it’s important they know how to use the device, understand how it works and what the medication is doing,” DeSalle says.

3 Important Tips to Using an Inhaler

  1. Get trained on how to use it. There are several types of inhalers, such as a metered-dose inhaler, Aerolizer inhaler and dry-powder inhaler, and different methods of use for each inhaler. It is very important to learn how to use an inhaler correctly.
  2. Prime it correctly. When people don’t know how to correctly use the inhaler and how to prime it, they are not getting the medication they need. This is what often leads to an emergency room visit, DeSalle says.
  3. Know when to reorder. Use the inhaler as prescribed and reorder at the appropriate time, so you are not without medication if you experience a flare-up.

Medication Management and Oxygen for COPD

DeSalle has seen veterans end up back in the hospital because they didn’t finish the full course of their prescribed medication.

“Don’t save it for later,” she advises. “If you don’t do the full course, this sets you up for a relapse.” Properly managing medication is key to not ending up back in the hospital and in helping slow progression of the disease.

This same advice goes for oxygen treatment and therapy. While oxygen can be expensive, it’s important to use as prescribed and not cut back or manipulate to save costs. Research shows oxygen therapy has good short-term and long-term effects in people who have COPD.

If you notice signs of a respiratory flare-up, such as shortness of breath, a cough and using your rescue inhaler more frequently, don’t wait to call a doctor, DeSalle advises. The earlier you call your physician, the more likely you will be able to avoid a larger problem or readmittance into the hospital.

Breathing Techniques for COPD

Techniques that can help ease shortness of breath include pursed-lips breathing and diaphragmatic (also called belly or abdominal) breathing. These two techniques recommended by the COPD Foundation can help you get air without working so hard to breathe.

Steps to Pursed-lips breathing:

  1. Breathe in through your nose (as if you are smelling something) for about 2 seconds.
  2. Pucker your lips like you’re getting ready to blow out candles on a birthday cake.
  3. Breathe out very slowly through pursed-lips, two to three times as long as you breathed in.

Steps to Diaphragmatic Breathing

This technique is best used when you’re feeling rested and relaxed and while sitting back or lying down.

  1. Relax your shoulders.
  2. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
  3. Inhale through your nose for about two seconds.
  4. As you breathe in, your belly should move outward. Your belly should move more than your chest.
  5. As you breathe out slowly through pursed-lips, gently press on your belly. This will push up on your diaphragm to help get your air out.

Tips For Living with COPD

  • Stop smoking and don’t let others smoke in your home.
  • Protect yourself from infection by washing your hands frequently and staying away from those with colds and the flu.
  • Take medication exactly as directed.
  • Decrease stress.
  • Exercise to keep the lungs conditioned.
  • Eat right to stay healthy.
  • Continue medical follow-up.

Maine Veterans’ Homes Care Transition Program

Maine Veterans’ Homes Care Transition Program begins with education and training during a rehabilitation stay at Maine Veterans’ Homes. The program also includes home follow-up care, such as a call within 24 hours of going home, a home visit and weekly follow-up calls for 30 days.

Maine Veterans’ Homes are skilled in the care of Veterans and their spouses with COPD, asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. We understand the needs of our honored Veterans and their higher rate of respiratory conditions due to their service exposure.

As a Veteran, you may be eligible for a VA stipend toward your room and board. We have a skilled nursing unit and offer state-of-the-art rehabilitation and therapy services that in-house respiratory, physical, occupational, speech and recreation therapies.

To find out more about our veteran health care services, contact Maine Veterans’ Homes online or give us a call at 800-278-9494. We welcome you and your family to visit any one or all of our six Maine Veterans’ Homes locations.