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COPD: Home from the Hospital

If you’ve been in the hospital for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) recently, you may have questions about how to care for yourself now that you’re back at home. By understanding your treatment plan, you can help prevent another flare-up—and stay out of the hospital.

Here are some important factors that you and your health care provider can review together.

Managing your medications

Part of being able to control the symptoms of COPD means knowing how to use your medications. Your health care provider will help you understand what all your medications are for and how and when to take each one before leaving the hospital. If you still have questions after you’re home, call your health care provider.

Many people need to take long-acting and short-acting bronchodilators to keep their airways open. You may need to take one type of bronchodilator every day to prevent problems and a second type if you suddenly get worse. If you’re not comfortable using an inhaler, ask your health care provider for tips. For a short time after you leave the hospital, you may need an antibiotic to treat infection and an oral steroid to reduce inflammation.

Ask your health care provider to work with you to develop a COPD action plan. The plan can show you what actions to take when you have different COPD-related symptoms. It can be of great comfort to you and your family to have such information in writing. Check out the American Lung Association website for an example of an action plan. 

Ways to avoid getting sick

Infections and lung irritants can trigger COPD flare-ups. Your health care provider will have suggestions for how to avoid them. Some suggestions may include:

  • Staying up-to-date with flu and pneumonia vaccinations

  • Washing your hands often to avoid colds and the flu

  • Keeping your nebulizer clean and disinfected, if you use one

  • Treating any heartburn (acid reflux) problems

  • Quitting smoking, if you smoke, and not letting others smoke around you

  • Eating a well-balanced diet 

  • Exercising within the activity level recommended by your doctor

How to improve breathing

Your health care provider may recommend pulmonary rehabilitation. In these programs, you’re taught how to manage your COPD at home. Exercise sessions with trained staff are on the menu, too. These can improve your endurance and breathing. Some programs offer support groups or counseling—a big help in coping with stress, depression, or anxiety. Your insurance may or may not cover these services, so check with your health plan.

When to check in about a problem

Your health care provider will ask you to call if you have certain problems such as:

  • Shortness of breath that is worse than usual

  • Coughing more or spitting up more phlegm

  • Phlegm that is deep yellow, green, or brown

Be sure you’re clear on what to watch for. By taking good care of yourself and catching problems early, you can improve your condition, feel better, and prevent another hospital stay.