COPD Basics: How to Slow its Progression | Health 101

Health 101

What is COPD and How to Slow its Progression

Do you have difficulty breathing? Do you ever feel short of breath? You may be at risk for one of the most chronic lung diseases, COPD.

What is COPD?

COPD describes two chronic lung diseases:

  • Chronic Bronchitis is when your breathing tubes are inflamed as result of an infection or irritation.
  • Emphysema is when the small air sacs in your lungs become damaged over time, making it more difficult to breathe.


COPD makes it difficult to breathe because tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs are blocked. People living with the disease are at higher risk for other health conditions such as heart disease and lung cancer.1 COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States.2


What are the warning signs?

Many people live with COPD without even knowing it. It can lead to more serious health conditions and even death, so it’s important to be aware of the warning signs. Symptoms of COPD vary for every person. They often include shortness of breath, coughing, increased breathlessness and tightness in the chest.3


What causes COPD?

Smoking is the main cause of COPD, and it accounts for as many as eight out of 10 COPD-related deaths.4 There are other things that could cause COPD. Long-term exposure to second-hand smoke, air pollution and exposure to dust and fumes are some examples. There is a rare genetic deficiency that can also cause COPD. Although uncommon, asthma in some cases can lead to COPD if not treated over a long period of time.5


Tips for Managing and Slowing Progression of COPD

COPD can get worse over time. There is no cure for COPD, but with the right medication and treatment, you can slow the progression and live a normal life.

Not smoking is the first and most important step you can take to treat COPD. This will also prevent it from getting worse. Talk with your doctor about getting started getting help to quit.

Your doctor may have other suggestions for you to try based on what your symptoms are and what you need most. They will provide you with specific lifestyle changes and treatments that are tailored to your condition. Treatment options may include breathing and physical exercises, nutrition programs or special medications and oxygen therapy.

Different seasons can cause problems for those who suffer from COPD, particularly the harsh heat of summer and the extreme cold of winter. Here are a few tips for managing COPD in the winter and summer months:



Fall and winter can be a tough time as colds and flu viruses can aggravate your breathing. Follow these tips to breathe easy during colder months:

  • Take your breathing medicines as your doctor ordered
  • Get a flu shot this fall.
  • Ask your doctor if you need a pneumonia shot.
  • Avoid being around people who have a cold or flu.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Stop smoking and try to avoid being around people who smoke.
  • Call your doctor right away if you get sick. You may need more medicine like a steroid or an antibiotic. This may help you avoid a trip to the hospital.
  • Eat small, light meals like cold fruits or vegetables throughout the day


High heat and humidity levels can make COPD symptoms worse and increase the chance of flare up. Be prepared to beat the heat with these lifestyle tips:

  • Take your breathing medicines as your doctor ordered
  • Drink plenty of water to keep your body cool
  • Check the air quality report daily to know what pollutants and smog are in the air
  • Stay inside with the air conditioning on very hot days
  • Dress in loose fitting cotton or clothes to keep yourself cool
  • Use a humidifier to help you breathe better
  • Eat small, light meals like cold fruits or vegetables throughout the day
  • Stop smoking and try to avoid being around people who smoke

If you think you may be at risk for COPD or need help managing it, Gateway Health can assist you with your condition.

To learn more about the Gateway Health program, you can call and speak to a Care Coordinator.
Care Coordinators are available Monday through – Friday from, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Toll Free Numbers

Member and Provider Services: 1-800-392-1147

Family Health Council: 1-800-532-9465

Health Choices: 1-800-440-3989

TDD/TTY: 711


Toll Free Numbers

Pennsylvania 1-800-685-5209

Ohio: 1-888-447-4505

North Carolina: 1-855-847-6430

TDD/TTY: 711
8:00 AM – 8:00 PM Eastern Time

7 Days a week from October 1 through March 31.

*From April 1 through September 30 our business hours are 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., Monday through Friday.


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