Take Control of Your Lung Condition
Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Today I wanted to talk about taking control of your lung condition. For many of my patients when they are first diagnosed with a lung condition, their world feels like it has been turned upside down. My patients are scared, anxious, and nervous for what is to come. They back out of social engagements and start to seclude themselves from others, worried that they might catch something that could possibly worsen their lung condition. Thoughts range from “how am I going to manage this thing?” to “how long do I have to live?” For some, there is a great deal of denial that there is anything wrong and they go back to their “same ol’ ways” plugging along until they can’t disguise it from family and friends, or a flare-up stops them in their tracks. And then there are the “researchers” that take their questions about their diagnosis straight to the internet and library to find out more and get answers to questions that they didn’t even have time to think about when their doctor delivered the news. No matter how you would classify your response to learning of your lung diagnosis, everyone wants to know… How can I feel in control of my health even though this diagnosis will never go away?
Here are my suggestions on how YOU can take control of your lung condition…
Do Your Research– Learning about your lung diagnosis is a great way to find out what exactly is going on with your lungs and why they aren’t functioning correctly. You don’t have to be an anatomy and physiology whiz to understand how the lungs work. Knowing where the dysfunction lies with your lung condition can help you to avoid getting sick and what symptoms may give you cause for concern to see your doctor. Researching your lung diagnosis may also inform you of new medicines and research studies that you may be a candidate to try or participate in. The more you know…. The better. However, don’t let your research cause you anxiety or stress. You will read “worst case scenarios” so it is important not to over analyze the information and think the worst.
Make sure you are confident in your physician– Having confidence in your healthcare team gives you peace of mind that you are being taken care of appropriately and that your physician has your best interest in mind. If you have a lung diagnosis, I recommend you see a pulmonologist (a specialized lung doctor) to oversee your lung condition. Primary care doctors are amazing, and some have quite a bit of experience managing lung conditions; however, pulmonologists have extra credentialing focusing on the respiratory system. They are highly trained to manage the most serious of lung diagnoses and therefore I would prioritize to have one on your team. Prior to meeting with your pulmonologist (again) do your research and find out more about the doctor you will be meeting with as well as the practice. Do they have “walk in” hours? How quick can you usually get a sick appointment? Do they have a “patient portal” for communication or will the physician provide you with an email address? I also recommend reading my Preparing for Your Pulmonologist blog so that you are ready for your appointment the day that it comes.
Eat right– Healthy eating is a cornerstone to your overall wellness. Sure, there are seasons that we all struggle in (mine happens to be the holidays) however, if 85-90% of the time you are trying to eat the right things… you will feel better about yourself and healthier. I am not one to market one special diet, but I do like the Mediterranean diet and I like the Paleo diet as well. However, being strict about one or the other really isn’t my personal habit. Essentially eating lean proteins and lots of fruits and vegetables is key. Avoiding processed foods that have additives and chemicals in them to make them more shelf stable will help you to eat as “clean” as possible. However, allow yourself an occasional “splurge” and eat the piece of cake or have that glass of wine if you want it. Life is about balance and enjoying (on occasion) the things that you like.
Take your medications the right way at the right time of day – One of my highest priorities when I see patients in pulmonary rehab is making sure they are taking their inhaled medications the right way, the right time of day. You would be surprised how many times that my coworkers and I have to totally rework a patient’s medication schedule. In fact, just last week, we threw out a patient’s inhaler that expired in 2005! (Say what?!) We all are busy, but it is a good idea to request a consultation with your pharmacist or physician and have them look over not only your medications but when you are taking them. Before doing so, write them out in list form AND schedule form so that the time you are taking them is explained. Also, if you are ordered 2 puffs… make sure you are taking 2 puffs. Essentially take the exact dosage that has been recommended for you otherwise you aren’t getting the full concentration of the medication in your system. Throw out old expired rescue inhalers and call your physician if you need your prescription renewed. Replace old nebulizer equipment to make sure that you are getting an optimal breathing treatment every time you use the equipment.
Exercise– Maintaining your strength and endurance will allow you to complete everyday tasks with less breathlessness. The trick for many people with lung conditions is for many of them exercising when they are short of breath. If you aren’t exercising now because you don’t have the confidence, try starting out at a pulmonary rehab. Build your confidence there and then know that you can do it on your own at another facility. Bring a pulse oximeter so that you can monitor your oxygen levels and heart rate. Diversify your workout and don’t do the same things every day. Make sure you have a “good mix” of cardio and strength training in your workout routine.
Get your rest– Good sleep is crucial to your energy level throughout the day. When you are overtired, it is difficult to manage your everyday breathlessness. I equate that to when I don’t get enough sleep, my every day tasks seem so much more overwhelming and tiring to complete. Consider a sleep study if you wake up frequently throughout the night (not needing to use the restroom), your spouse states that you snore, or if you are waking up each morning short of breath. Wear your oxygen at night if it is prescribed. If time allows, lay down for 30 minutes-1 hour each day for a nap or to just rest your body. Don’t allow yourself to take an excessively long nap or it could affect your sleep at night. For more sleep tips click here!
Maintain a positive attitude– I am a strong believer in the power of positive thinking. My grandma passed along that belief to my mom and my mom passed it along to me. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and go into new experiences with the idea that I will learn something new or gain knowledge from them. My grandma’s favorite book (which though falling completely apart) hangs out in my bedside table. It’s called The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. One of the quotes I love the most is, “Attitudes are more important than facts. That is worth repeating until its truth grips you. Any fact facing us, however difficult, even seemingly hopeless, is not so important as our attitude toward the fact. How you think about a fact may defeat you before you ever do anything about it.” Then it goes on to say, “practice thinking confident thoughts, make it a dominating habit, and you will develop such a strong case of capacity that regardless of what difficulties arise you will be able to overcome them. Feelings of confidence actually induce increased strength.”
See the doctor when something is “not right”– Early intervention is another extremely important factor to taking control of your lung condition. You MUST see a doctor when you start to get sick or have a flare-up. Repeated bouts with infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia get increasingly difficult to get over. See your physician as soon as you notice that something “isn’t right.” The longer you wait to be evaluated by a doctor, typically the more difficult it will be to recover from your illness. If you are a person that waiting just 24 hours could mean the difference between recovering at home or a hospital admission, consider asking your physician if you could have an “emergency prescription” for an antibiotic to take until you are able to reach him during business hours. If they are uncomfortable with that, ask what actions you should take if you should experience a flare-up or and infection starts on a weekend or a holiday.
Connect with others that have the same diagnosis– There is strength in numbers. I see such wonderful advice being given to patients through support groups on Facebook and in their local community. Many of the foundations surrounding different lung diagnoses like the COPD Foundation have patient forums where questions are asked by patients and family members and are answered not only by other patients but representatives of the healthcare community. Through shared experiences, you can learn so much about your lung condition and how to manage it. I encourage you to join a support group that is encouraging and informational.
With all of these factors within their control, it is impowering to my patients to live as healthy and as happy as they can be. Sure, the lung condition still exists… but their ability to manage it mentally and physically is stronger and they feel more confident to live their best lives while having their lung diagnoses.
Thanks for Reading!
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