Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Signature Health Services can assist you with COPD needs at home

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and how we care for it

Signature Health Services’ highly trained, skilled, and caring nurses and certified nurses’ aides have twenty-five years of award-winning treatment of patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Chronic means long-term. Obstructive refers to blockage in the airways of the lungs. Pulmonary refers to lungs.

COPD refers to two main obstructive lung diseases:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Emphysema

Most people with COPD have both bronchitis and emphysema.

When you have COPD, there may be changes in your lungs. Your lungs may:

  • Make more mucus
  • Have less oxygen and make more carbon dioxide
  • Have less working space to hold air.

When these changes occur, they may cause problems. You may have one or more of these problem signs:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing, with or without mucus
  • Trouble catching your breath
  • Frequent respiratory infections

Living with chronic lung disease means learning to understand and control it. The best way to control your disease is to be an active partner in your treatment. Practice daily what you learn from your Signature healthcare team and the materials we give you to learn to self-manage your COPD and recognize the symptoms of respiratory distress and infections. This is discussed in more detail, below.

The air you breathe is delivered to your lungs through two large airways, called bronchi. Chronic bronchitis means the lining of these bronchial airways has become inflamed (red and swollen), and produces too much mucus. Inflammation can be caused by cigarette or cigar smoke, air pollution, and allergens.

When you have chronic bronchitis, it is harder for you to breathe, and you may have chronic coughing and wheezing. This is because of the extra mucus. Some air tubes may even be blocked by this extra mucus, making it easier to develop lung infections. Lung infections can lead to permanent damage to your lungs.

As discussed above, the air you breathe is delivered to your lungs through two large airways, called bronchi. These bronchial airways divide again and again until they reach 300 million tiny, elastic air sacs, called alveoli. Your air sacs transfer oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Emphysema is a disease that destroys these air sacs, as well as their blood vessels and support tissue. The disease also causes airway blockage, and many of the small air tubes leading to your alveoli collapse. Most emphysema is caused by cigarette by cigarette smoke.

When you have emphysema:

  • The transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide does not occur as it should
  • Extra pressure is needed to exhale because of the collapsed airways
  • More mucus may be trapped in your lungs, making them prone to infection
  • You suffer from shortness of breath and coughing
  • Your lungs and even your heart may become enlarged, over time
  • Your chest becomes rounded (barrel-shaped)

Signature’s nurses can help you maintain a regular medication schedule and understand your medicines. Antibiotics can cure bacterial infections, but they can’t cure chronic bronchitis itself. So is it very important you work with your home healthcare nurse to:

  • Avoid irritants (especially cigarette and cigar smoke)
  • Drink lots of fluids, especially water
  • Keep your lungs clear of mucus
  • Take the medicines prescribed for you
  • Help you learn how to properly use inhalers and get the full dose of your medication.

Nurses can deliver inhaled medicines and breathing treatments and teach proper guidelines for the use and cleaning of each inhaler. These types of medicines are called aerosols or medical aerosols. They are a mixture of drug particles and gas. Inhaled medicines go directly to your airways and have fewer side effects. Inhaling this aerosol treatment can help you breathe easier. Incorrectly using your inhaler can lead to flare-ups of your COPD or other risks, like increased risk of side effects.

Aerosol or breathing treatments can be delivered in multiple ways. Some are delivered with hand-held devices called metered dose inhalers (MDIs) or dry powder inhalers (DPIs). Other delivery methods include a small volume nebulizer device (SVN), which changes a liquid medicine into an aerosol for inhalation.

Your Signature nurse will also teach you –and help monitor– the signs and symptoms of respiratory distress, which include:

  • Trouble breathing; increased wheezing or chest tightness
  • Increase coughing or mucus
  • Breathing faster or slower than normal for you
  • Retention of fluid
  • Feeling of malaise or feeling anxious, restless, or irritable
  • Confusion
  • Increased fatigue or no energy for your daily activities
  • Blue-ish color to your nails or lips
  • Upper airway symptoms like a cold or sore throat

Your nurse can help you prevent respiratory distress by:

  • Recommending the use of a pulse oximeter (a small, lightweight device used to monitor the amount of oxygen carried in your body)
  • Teaching pursed lip and deep breathing exercises and controlled coughing techniques
  • Ensuring you take your medicine regularly and as prescribed, including the proper use of your inhalers and oxygen
  • Talking to your doctor about the need for physical therapy, also provided by Signature
  • Recognizing and quickly responding to your symptoms before they get worse.

Your Signature nurse also will help monitor you and teach you to quickly recognize the signs of an infection or respiratory problem, which include:

  • More shortness of breath, trouble breathing or wheezing than usual
  • More coughing (more often, severe, or both)
  • Increase in mucus production
  • Change in color of mucus (to yellow, green, or bloody)
  • Swelling in ankles, legs, or around eyes
  • Sudden weight gain (2 pounds or more overnight)
  • Heart palpitations or faster pulse than usual
  • Dizziness, sleepiness, headaches, vision problems, irritability, trouble thinking
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration (shown by darker urine and dry skin)
  • Fever over 101 degrees
  • Early morning headaches not relieved by mild headache medicines (especially if you are on oxygen while sleeping)


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