You were in the hospital to treat breathing problems that are caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD. COPD damages your lungs. This makes it hard to breathe and get enough oxygen.
After you go home, follow instructions on taking care of yourself. Use the information below as a reminder.
When You're in the Hospital
In the hospital you received oxygen to help you breathe better. You may also need to use oxygen at home. Your health care provider may have changed some of your COPD medicines during your hospital stay.
To build strength:
- Walk until it is a little hard to breathe.
- Slowly increase how far you walk.
- Try not to talk when you walk.
- Ask your provider how far to walk.
- Ride a stationary bike. Ask your provider how long and how hard to ride.
Build your strength even when you are sitting.
- Use small weights or an exercise band to strengthen your arms and shoulders.
- Stand up and sit down several times.
- Hold your legs straight out in front of you, then put them down. Repeat this movement several times.
Ask your provider whether you need to use oxygen during your activities, and if so, how much. You may be told to keep your oxygen above 90%. You can measure this with an oximeter. This is a small device that measures your body's oxygen level. Talk with your provider about how much oxygen is safe to use and what oxygen saturation to aim for.
Talk to your provider about whether you should do an exercise and conditioning program such as pulmonary rehabilitation.
Know how and when to take your COPD medicines.
- Take your quick-relief inhaler when you feel short of breath and need help fast.
- Take your long-term drugs every day.
Eat smaller meals more often, such as 6 smaller meals a day. It might be easier to breathe when your stomach is not full. Do not drink a lot of liquid before eating, or with your meals.
Ask your provider what foods to eat to get more energy.
Keep your lungs from becoming more damaged.
- If you smoke, now is the time to quit.
- Stay away from smokers when you are out, and do not allow smoking in your home.
- Stay away from strong odors and fumes.
- Do breathing exercises.
Talk to your provider if you feel depressed or anxious.
Stay Away From Infections
Wash your hands often. Always wash after you go to the bathroom and when you are around people who are sick.
Stay away from crowds. Ask visitors who have colds to wear masks or to visit when they're all better.
Save Your Energy at Home
Place items you use often in spots where you do not have to reach or bend over to get them.
Use a cart with wheels to move things around the house and kitchen. Use an electric can opener, dishwasher, and other things that will make your chores easier to do. Use cooking tools (knives, peelers, and pans) that are not heavy.
To save energy:
- Use slow, steady motions when you are doing things.
- Sit down if you can when you are cooking, eating, dressing, and bathing.
- Minimize going up and down the stairs.
- Get help for harder tasks.
- Do not try to do too much in one day.
- Keep the phone with you or near you.
- After bathing, wrap yourself in a towel rather than drying off.
- Try to reduce stress in your life.
Going Home With Oxygen
Your hospital provider may ask you to make a follow-up visit with:
- Your primary care doctor
- A respiratory therapist, who can teach you breathing exercises and how to use your oxygen
- Your lung doctor (pulmonologist)
- Someone who can help you stop smoking, if you smoke
- A physical therapist, if you join a pulmonary rehabilitation program
When to Call the Doctor
Call your provider if your breathing is:
- Getting harder
- Faster than before
- Shallow, and you cannot get a deep breath
Also call your provider if:
- You need to lean forward when sitting in order to breathe easily
- It is difficult to speak even a few words without being short of breath
- You are using muscles around your ribs to help you breathe
- You are having headaches more often
- You feel sleepy or confused
- You have a fever
- You are coughing up dark mucus
- Your fingertips or the skin around your fingernails are blue
COPD - adults - discharge; Chronic obstructive airways disease - adults - discharge; Chronic obstructive lung disease - adults - discharge; Chronic bronchitis - adults - discharge; Emphysema - adults - discharge; Bronchitis - chronic - adults - discharge; Chronic respiratory failure - adults - discharge
Anderson B, Brown H, Bruhl E, et al. Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement website. Health Care Guideline: Diagnosis and Management of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). 10th edition. www.healthquality.va.gov/guidelines/CD/copd/VADoDCOPDCPGFinal508.pdf. Updated January 2016. Accessed May 26, 2022.
Dominguez-Cherit G, Hernandez-Cardenas CM, Sigarroa ER. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In: Parrillo JE, Dellinger RP, eds. Critical Care Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 38.
Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) website. Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: 2023 report. goldcopd.org/2023-gold-report-2/. Accessed January 11, 2023.
Han MK, Lazarus SC. COPD: clinical diagnosis and management. In: Broaddus VC, Ernst JD, King TE, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 64.
National heart, lungs, and blood institute website. COPD. www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/copd. Updated March 24, 2022. Accessed May 26, 2022.
Review Date 1/20/2022
Updated by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron Jr. Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.