“To breathe is to live, and without breath there is no life” is a basic principle of yoga. No one is more aware of that than those who struggle to breathe every day.

If you suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), every breath can be a struggle. COPD is a serious health condition that narrows airways and makes it hard to breathe. It gets worse over time. Once damage is done to the lungs, it can’t be undone.

Congestive heart failure is another serious condition tied to COPD. The heart and lungs are very closely connected. When healthy, they work together to make sure that every part of your body gets the oxygen it needs.

When they aren’t healthy, they can work against each other to make your health worsen quickly. Low oxygen in the blood from COPD may put excess strain on the heart, making heart failure worse. And excess fluid in the lungs from heart failure can make breathing even more difficult for someone with COPD.

You may also have other conditions that co-exist with your COPD, such as sleep apnea, depression, lung cancer, asthma and diabetes.

Sudden illness, such as flu or pneumonia, can become serious for people with COPD. Your doctor will have to monitor your medicine for all your conditions to make sure they don’t make your COPD or any of the other health problems worse.

The main cause of COPD is smoking. Quitting can help prevent complications and slow the progress of the disease.

If you smoke and find yourself having trouble breathing, talk with your doctor. You may need to be screened for COPD. You should also discuss programs and products that can help you quit.

Other factors that contribute to COPD include:

  • Indoor air pollution from burning wood in fireplaces, cleaning products or scented candles
  • Heavy exposure to dust and chemical fumes in the workplace
  • Asthma
  • Frequent respiratory infections, especially during childhood
  • Heavy or long-term exposure to secondhand smoke and other air pollutants

Try to avoid these irritants. For example, if your home is being painted or sprayed for insects, have it done while you are away for a while. When pollen counts or ozone rates are high, keep your windows closed and stay indoors.

Follow your treatments for COPD exactly as your doctor orders. It can help you breathe easier, stay more active, and avoid or manage severe symptoms.

Talk with your doctor about whether and when you should get flu and pneumonia shots. These vaccines can lower your chances of getting these illnesses. Both are major health risks for people who have COPD.

Call your doctor if you notice that your symptoms are worse or if you have signs of an infection, such as a fever. Your doctor may change or adjust your treatments to relieve and treat symptoms.

Seek emergency help if your medicine isn’t working and if:

  • It is unusually hard to walk or talk
  • Your heart is beating very fast or irregularly
  • Your lips or fingernails become gray or blue
  • Your breathing is fast and hard, even when you are using your medicine

Probably the two most important things you can do if you have COPD are to quit smoking and get ongoing medical care. Being under the care of a doctor who can track your illness will set you up for success in managing your COPD and other health conditions.