7 ways to breathe easier with asthma or COPD

Over 3 million Canadians are affected by chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to Statistics Canada. Chronic respiratory diseases are more common among seniors and about 25% of Canadians 80 and older are living with COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, says the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). While COPD was once more prevalent among men, the rates are now very similar for men and women.

Although asthma rates are highest in children and adults under 35, and then decline until age 65, more people start developing asthma after 65, and over 10% of Canadians 80 and older have this chronic respiratory condition, according to PHAC.

Asthma more severe in seniors

The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) reports that older adults may have more severe asthma and be more prone to asthma attacks. Asthma can be difficult to diagnose in older adults due to the misconception that it’s less common in seniors and because older patients may have other conditions that mask the classic asthma features, CMAJ says. Diagnostic tests for asthma including spirometry (a lung function test) are recommended for older adults with unexplained shortness of breath, wheeze or cough.

Managing COPD and asthma

Both COPD and asthma are chronic diseases. But there are many things you can do to stay as healthy as possible, improve breathing and manage these conditions. The CMAJ recommends:

1) Avoid second-hand smoke. If you smoke, get help quitting.

2) Exercise regularly. If you exercise appropriately to keep your heart and other muscles in good shape, you don’t have to breathe in as much air to do the same amount of work.

Active seniors working out in a park3) Breathe clean air. When it’s hot, humid and outdoor air quality is low, stay indoors in an environment with good air quality.

4) Avoid triggers and flare-ups. Know and avoid whatever triggers your asthma or COPD symptoms, whether it be pets, dust mites, pollen, or chemical fumes from household cleaners.          

5) Get a flu shot. An annual flu shot is especially critical because people with lung conditions are more likely to develop pneumonia or other complications after getting the flu, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

6) Eat well. Eating healthy foods gives you more energy to breathe properly and do the things you want to do.

7) Take your medications properly. Knowing when and how to take your medications, with assistance if needed, is also key to controlling asthma and COPD symptoms.