How COPD affects your life depends on how far it has progressed and how severe your symptoms are. Many people with mild COPD find that it doesn’t affect their daily routine much at all, beyond perhaps an occasional cough and a tendency to tire a little more quickly. Moderate COPD may dictate changes in routines and adjustments to both the number and intensity of activities you can engage in.
Severe COPD has the most dramatic impact on your daily life. At this stage, you may no longer have the energy to do even simple tasks like bathing and getting dressed, much less more demanding things like mowing the lawn or shopping for groceries.
COPD is the second-leading cause of disability in the United States, behind only arthritis. Mild COPD may prompt you to take more sick days than you used to because you tire more easily. Moderate COPD can force you to change from a physically demanding job to a more sedentary one; many people with moderate COPD leave their full-time jobs in favor of part-time ones because their symptoms don’t leave enough energy for a full-time job.
By the time COPD reaches the severe stage, very few people are able to continue working at all; they just don’t have enough energy to do it. Aside from issues of fatigue, there are risks in continuing to work while you have COPD. Your immune system isn’t as strong, so you’re more susceptible to whatever bug may be making the rounds at your workplace. If your job involves a lot of physical exertion or exposure to dust, fumes, or other irritants, continuing to work may do more harm to your health. And overexertion can lead to sudden worsening of your symptoms, which can become life-threatening episodes.
Skipping Social Activities
The continual fatigue associated with COPD prompts most patients to cut back on their social and recreational activities — sometimes without even realizing how much they’ve cut back. One of the challenges of living with COPD is figuring out how to use limited stores of energy; without forethought and planning, many COPD patients find themselves dropping out of the things they used to find most enjoyable in their lives.
Unfortunately, social isolation can make COPD — and any other chronic illness — even worse, because it’s a key factor in depression. Recent research has shown that depression actually is harder on your general health than many chronic illnesses like diabetes and arthritis, and when depression accompanies a chronic illness, the illness itself is worse.
Doing Less at Home
Eventually, COPD interferes with your ability to do any activities, even mundane household chores. You can’t carry as much as you used to, and pushing the vacuum across the carpet is a lot harder now. Standing up and bending over can trigger bouts of dizziness, and just walking across the room can leave you short of breath. Errands become bigger productions, too. Just getting ready to go to the grocery store can sap your energy, and fighting crowds makes it worse.
Many people with COPD rely on family members and friends to take over responsibility for most household chores. Eventually, you may need a personal aide to help you with basic activities like bathing and grooming, or even a home health aide to help you with medications and exercises.