Managing COPD When A Senior Can’t Breathe Encompasses A Variety Of Treatments
Pegasus skilled in-home caregivers in Chatsworth and elsewhere offer comprehensive services to their senior clientele. They know how to care for individuals with acute and chronic health conditions. Our career home health care nurses understand how to manage COPD when a loved one can’t catch their breath.
Chronic obstructive respiratory disease (COPD) impairs an individual’s ability to breathe. Although in rare instances a genetic abnormality causes COPD, airborne toxins and pollutants are the primary cause. COPD is chronic and progressive.
Emphysema and chronic bronchitis occurring together are the hallmarks of COPD. The severity of each may differ from individual to individual. Each harms a different part of the lungs.
When an individual inhales, the air travels through the trachea to bronchial tubes within the lungs. The tubes branch into smaller tubes known as bronchioles. Those end in alveoli, which are tiny air sacs.
Emphysema damages the alveoli. Chronic bronchitis damages the bronchial tubes and bronchioles. Air no longer moves in and out of the lungs freely and cells become oxygen-starved.
What Are The Symptoms Of COPD?
Millions of Americans have COPD, although at least half of them don’t realize they do. That’s because the early symptoms often aren’t noticeable. Many attribute the symptoms they experience to other causes.
As a home health care nurse, you regularly spend quality time with your patients. That puts you in a position to become aware of changes, such as:
- They’re becoming short of breath after moderate activity.
- They’re coughing more than they used to.
- They’re clearing their throat frequently.
If the symptoms persist, encourage them to see a physician. COPD isn’t curable, but it’s treatable. As with any other disease, early treatment may minimize complications.
The symptoms progress to:
- Chronic cough
- Feeling tightness in their chest
- Shortness of breath after minimal activity
- Increased production of mucus
- Increased susceptibility to respiratory infections or distress
As the condition worsens, your patient may experience fatigue. You may notice a weight loss not attributable to diet. Other symptoms include swelling in their lower extremities.
They will need immediate medical attention if:
- You see cyanosis in their lips or fingernails.
- Their breathing becomes so labored they can’t talk.
- Their heart rate is rapid and possibly erratic.
- They become confused and may faint.
These symptoms generally indicate that they aren’t getting adequate oxygen.
Smoking Is The Primary Cause Of COPD
The toxin that causes the majority of COPD cases is tobacco smoke. That includes smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Smoke from marijuana and secondhand smoke are also culprits.
The single most important aspect of your in-home care will be to eliminate tobacco smoke. It’s crucial that your patient and any family members who smoke enroll in cessation programs. Free resources are available from the CDC by calling 1-800-784-8669.
Individuals with asthma have an increased risk of developing COPD. Smoking combined with asthma multiplies their risk. Homes also need to be well-ventilated to prevent the buildup of indoor pollution that damages lungs.
What Are The Treatments For COPD?
Treatment often starts with bronchodilators. These may be short-acting or long-acting. They work by relaxing the muscles surrounding the airways.
You may have to teach your patient the correct use of their bronchodilator. Physicians and patients have a variety from which to choose. If a senior has difficulty with one bronchodilator or type of medication it contains, another kind might better serve them.
If the airways are inflamed, your patient may need inhaled corticosteroids. These have side effects, which you may need to monitor. In specific cases, these may be combined with bronchodilators.
As COPD worsens, individuals may need oxygen therapy. Some only need it during activities, while others require it all the time. So far, research has shown that oxygen therapy is the only treatment that can prolong life.
Some individuals may need additional breathing devices. One such device is a BPAP (trade name BiPAP) machine, which is a ventilator that may be used at home. These use pressure to supply air to the lungs.
Some patients may have severe “flare-ups” of their COPD symptoms. These are called exacerbations, and they can be life-threatening. Exacerbations may be caused by infections, allergies, or by inhaling an irritant.
If your patient has had one or more exacerbations, you need to create an “action plan.” That’s a written set of instructions to be implemented at the first sign of an exacerbation. Each plan is unique to the patient.
The patient may have specific medications for exacerbations. Some may need to use supplemental oxygen. Others may need to call an ambulance or go to the nearest emergency room.
As the patient advocate and professional who often creates treatment plans, you may help implement a pulmonary rehabilitation program. You’ll be coordinating education, exercises, and support with members of your Pegasus team and other specialists.
Pegasus is a licensed Home Care Organization and a Joint Commission Accredited Home Health Care organization. Our in-home caregivers in Chatsworth and our other locations strive to keep their senior clientele independent and comfortable. Our career home health care nurses are knowledgeable in managing COPD when loved ones can’t catch their breath.