5 Ways to Support Patients with Breathing Problems
December 15 2020
Ensuring a High Quality of Life for Your Patients with Breathing Difficulties
Breathing easily is something that many of us take for granted, but for those patients with breathing difficulties, such as COPD, feeling like you have enough oxygen is top of mind. As a caregiver of someone with breathing problems, it is important that you keep your patients’ respiratory health top of mind. Following these five tips can help improve your patient’s quality of life and perhaps improve their respiratory health, depending on their diagnosis.
It’s always good to start with patient education when it comes to any illness or diagnosis. Being informed allows us to feel more confident in what we are doing and where we are going in life and that is no exception when it comes to our health. An informed patient is more likely to follow their recommended health plan and treatments, which will only improve their quality of life.
Be sure to thoroughly go over any treatment plans, including breathing exercises and oxygen therapy, with your patients. Give them plenty of time and opportunity to ask any questions. Be sure to use active listening and to look at your patient when they are speaking to you. If you don’t know the answer to a question, reassure them that you will find out the answer and relay it to them in a timely manner.
Don’t forget to also be engaged with the patient’s family, especially with a family caregiver. Ensuring that the family and family caregiver is as educated as the patient about the illness or diagnosis is key to ensuring the health and quality of life of your patient. Family plays a big part in helping the patient adhere to the treatment plan through reminders and encouragement.
Promote Good Nutrition
Good nutrition is the foundation to a healthy lifestyle. Patients in respiratory failure will have unique nutritional needs and those with acute respiratory failure often suffer from malnutrition. Malnutrition can impair respiratory muscle functioning, reduce lung functionality and decrease the lungs’ ability to fight infections. This means that it is key that you promote a healthy diet, including encouraging following any specific dietary needs your patient may have. Be sure that they are getting the proper protein and caloric intake to defend against malnutrition. Make sure to work closely with their dietitian if they have one.
Exercise is also part of a healthy lifestyle. Your respiratory patients will most likely have a prescribed exercise plan so it is key that you encourage them to do their exercises as prescribed. These exercise plans are often designed to help increase their capacity, decrease dyspnea and increase their overall quality of life. Being overweight can also cause breathing issues so some of your patients may be on a weight loss exercise plan to improve their breathing.
Pulmonary rehab programs can help your patients live better with their respiratory illness and their program will be unique to their needs and illness. Often, these rehab programs consist of warm-ups, endurance, strength and flexibility stretches to help open their chest and lungs to improve breathing, as well as improve their overall muscle strength, balance and flexibility. Their program may also include breathing strategies, energy conserving techniques and goal setting.
As their caregiver, it is important that you encourage your patients to follow their exercise or rehab program in order to increase their quality of life. Some patients may not like doing exercise because they may find it uncomfortable. Others may be dealing with emotional issues around their diagnosis that affect their willingness to participate in treatment plans. For these cases, gentle encouragement and continued patient education will be required.
Some patients may have anxiety about not having enough oxygen or feel depressed about their diagnosis or illness. It is important to address a patient’s mental health as part of a holistic, patient-centered approach to care. You can address your patient’s anxiety or depression through patient education. Ask your patient if there is anything they have questions or concerns about. If answering their questions and concerns is not enough, be sure to speak to their doctor about the issue for further treatment options, such as counseling or medications.
Warding Off Additional Breathing Issues
Helping stop or get rid of additional irritants and hindrances to breathing is key in improving your patient’s quality of life.
- Stop Smoking: It is key that your patients with respiratory problems stop smoking if they haven’t already, especially if they need to go on oxygen, to ensure they do not keep damaging their lungs. Be sure to work with their entire health care team to help them stop smoking. Secondhand smoke is also dangerous, so encourage loved ones to also quit smoking or to not smoke inside the home, especially if oxygen is in use.
- Improve Indoor Air Quality: Reducing indoor air pollutants can help strengthen the lungs and stop additional breathing issues in its tracks. Make sure that filters for heaters and air conditioners are changed frequently and routinely. Also, only use vacuums with HEPA air filters that trap dust. Ensure that bed linens and curtains are washed in hot water to kill dust mites. Avoid moisture buildup by running a fan that vents outside for at least 20 minutes when cooking or showering. And finally, aerosol sprays should be avoided, especially scented ones, as these can be irritating to those with lung conditions.
- Get Good Sleep: Sleep problems are common with COPD. This is partly due to the breathing symptoms themselves but medications can also play a role. Ensure your patient is getting good sleep. If sleep problems persist, speak with their doctor about treatments to improve their sleep quality.
- Get a Flu Shot: Each year the flu causes serious problems for those with COPD and other lung issues, making it key that your patient receive the flu vaccine. If your patient is able to receive the vaccine, be sure that you encourage them to do so in order to protect themself from serious health complications.