Health: Coping with COPD

Living with asthma
Living with asthma
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Nicola Parker writes about protecting yourself from the debilitating curse of COPD


One of the things I took a special interest in during my studies is COPD – an umbrella term for a group of breathing conditions, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma.

A grandparent of mine suffered badly with COPD and watching her struggle is what led to my interest. Despite the miracles of modern medicine, I watched her go from being an active lady in her 60s to a lady that needed inhalers, a mobility scooter and eventually a breathing machine. Looking back at her struggle, I wish I had known then what I know now.
COPD is non-reversible, so most mainstream medicine focuses on symptom management. Symptoms include a chronic cough, recurrent chest infections and breathlessness. Inhalers are used to relax the airways, making it easier to breathe and expel mucus, while antibiotics are used to resolve chest infections when necessary. If repeat infections keep leading to pneumonia, patients may be prescribed continuous antibiotics.

Although I’m incredibly grateful that these medicines are available to us, when I began my studies, I hoped to find something beyond inhalers, steroids and antibiotics, in order that I might offer my patients a wider variety of tools to better manage their breathing conditions.

The main thing that concerned me about COPD was the chronic mucus. While inhalers help relax the airways, making it easier to breathe, mucus still has only one way out – to cough it out. This is simple if you have healthy lungs and only need to do this occasionally, but if you have a chronic condition, this chesty cough can be a daily irritation and source of exhaustion.

In my own clinic, I use an enzyme called serrapeptase. Serrapeptase digests mucus from within, reducing the amount of mucus in the lungs without the sufferer needing to continuously bring it up. It’s a common favourite for chesty coughs and blocked sinuses, but I also recommend it for long-term use, to sufferers of COPD. Clearing mucus should immediately help to make breathing easier, but the main report I get back is how much of a relief it is not to need to cough so often through the day. Serrapeptase works quickly, quick enough that when trying it out with somebody, I’m happy for them to try a week’s supply, which is enough to let them know if it suits them.

The other main suggestion I have is to look after your immune system. This may seem obvious and something easily dismissed, but lowering your frequency of chest infections will actually help to reduce damage done to your lung tissue, long-term. Imagine scratching an area of skin repeatedly over time, say in the case of a labourer working with tools. Eventually, that tissue will harden and callouses will form. Each time you get a chest infection, your lung tissue becomes inflamed and this inflammation needs to heal. Eventually, after repeat infections, especially if these infections are severe, the lung tissue develops scarring, making it less stretchy. This stiffer tissue will expand less when you inhale, further contributing to breathing difficulties and actually adding to the progression of the disease.

There are many ways to protect yourself from infections, be it vitamin C, zinc or echinacea. For people with lung problems though, my recommendation is thyme. Tincture of thyme is antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal, offering protection from various microbes that can infect the lungs. It has the added benefit of making it easier to rid the body of mucus, having a direct action on the lungs. Culinary thyme from your herb cupboard would work gently as a tea a few times a day, or I recommend it as the essential oil as an inhalation for a more potent effect. Tincture is my preferred way of dispensing thyme, as it is most convenient to use on a regular basis.

Many people believe that if a condition is non-reversible, they needn’t bother with trying to change it. I contest this, believing that if a condition is non-reversible, it is even more important that we do everything we can to protect our bodies, using every available tool to make life more comfortable and improving the quality of our day-to-day lives.