Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) restricts airflow into and out of the lungs. People with the condition tend to experience shortness of breath and may therefore have difficulty exercising and performing everyday activities.
Although there is currently no cure for COPD, various home remedies can help open up the airways and improve a person's quality of life.
This article discusses which home remedies, including lifestyle changes, supplements, and essential oils, can help people manage COPD.
Home remedies for COPD
The following home remedies and natural treatments can help people with COPD manage their symptoms and slow disease progression:
1. Quit smoking
Quitting smoking can slow COPD progression.
Tobacco smoke irritates the airways within the lungs. Inflammation and obstruction of the airways causes them to narrow, making it difficult for air to pass in and out.
According to a recent review, people with COPD who smoke have a more rapid decline in lung function, more complications, and an increased risk of mortality.
Smoking may also reduce the effectiveness of inhaled steroid medications that doctors use to treat severe COPD.
Quitting smoking is the most effective action that someone who smokes and has COPD can take to slow disease progression. People can see a doctor for advice on how to quit smoking, or they may visit smokefree.gov for step-by-step guidance.
2. Improve air quality in the home
Certain irritants inside the home can make breathing more difficult for people with COPD. Common irritants include:
- paints and varnishes
- chemical cleaning products
- tobacco smoke
- pet dander
People can improve air quality in their home by:
- limiting contact with household chemicals
- opening windows to increase airflow
- using an air filtration system
- having air filtration systems cleaned regularly to prevent growth of harmful mold and mildew
- vacuuming and removing clutter to prevent dust from building up
- washing bed linens every week to reduce dust mites
3. Practice breathing exercises
Practicing breathing exercises aim to improve the symptoms of COPD by improving the muscles a person uses to take breaths and improve their ability to exercise.
A 2012 Cochrane systematic review compared groups of people with COPD who used breathing exercises with people who did not for 4–15 weeks.
Breathing exercises included:
- Pursed-lip breathing. This is when a person inhales through their nose and exhales through tightly pursed lips.
- Diaphragm breathing. This means contracting the diaphragm in order to breathe more deeply. The belly visibly expands while breathing in, and it deflates when breathing out.
- Pranayama. This is a controlled breathing technique common in yoga practice. Pranayama involves concentrating on areas of the body involved in breathing.
The researchers found no differences in symptoms such as shortness of breath and quality of life, but people who used breathing exercises experienced improved exercise tolerance. Breathing exercises may help people with COPD who have difficulty exercising.
4. Manage stress levels
Emotional stress can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of COPD flare-ups.
One study found that people with COPD who also had anxiety or depression were more likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of leaving. Emotional stress may weaken the immune system, increasing the risk of respiratory infections.
Mindfulness meditation may help reduce emotional distress. A small-scale 2015 study found that an 8-week mindfulness meditation course improved respiratory rate in people with COPD compared with the control group. People also reported improved emotional function after six classes.
5. Maintain a healthy weight
People with COPD who are underweight are more likely to experience:
- weakness in the breathing muscles
- reduced ability to exercise
- reduced lung capacity
According to a recent review, a balanced diet can help people with COPD by improving lung function. A balanced diet also has metabolic and heart benefits. People who are underweight may especially benefit from a nutritional diet high in calories, protein, and unsaturated fats.
This type of diet increases a person's energy and helps build muscle when combined with exercise. However, more large-scale studies are needed before researchers understand the benefits of this diet for people with COPD.
6. Develop muscle strength
Many people with COPD have difficulty exercising because breathing is harder. However, avoiding exercise can worsen symptoms such as muscle weakness and fatigue.
The following exercises may help people with COPD improve muscle strength and increase exercise capacity:
- Interval training. This entails alternating periods of high- and low-intensity exercise. Interval training is good for people with severe COPD, as it exercises muscles without overloading the heart and lungs.
- Strength training. This uses resistance methods such as weights, resistance bands, and a person's own body weight to increase muscle size and strength. Building up the muscles in the lower body can help improve shortness of breath.
Once a person begins to lose fitness, exercise becomes increasingly difficult, and lung function may worsen. People should therefore start an exercise regime at an early stage for the best benefits.
7. Water-based exercises
People with COPD may have muscle or bone conditions that make it more difficult to exercise. Water exercises place less stress on the body, which can make them easier and more manageable for people with COPD.
A 2013 study found that water-based exercises might increase a person's exercise capacity and quality of life. In people with COPD and physical disabilities, water-based exercises were more effective than both land-based exercise and no exercise.
The researchers suggested that these effects might be due to the unique properties of water, which support body weight through buoyancy and provide resistance to increase exercise intensity.
Supplements for COPD
A range of supplements can help improve the symptoms of COPD by controlling inflammation and reducing symptoms. Supplements for COPD include:
8. Vitamin D
People can buy vitamin D supplements in drug stores or online.
9. Co-enzyme Q10 and creatine
Co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and creatine are natural chemicals that are involved in supplying energy to the body's cells.
A 2013 study looked at whether a combination of creatine and CoQ10 supplements would improve COPD symptoms in people with chronic respiratory failure.
After 2 months, people who took both creatine and CoQ10 supplements had improved exercise tolerance, less shortness of breath, improved flare-ups, and an improved quality of life.
People can buy CoQ10 in drug stores or online.
People can also use essential oils to open up the airways and clear mucus from the lungs. People can use essential oils in a diffuser or dilute them in a carrier oil and apply to the skin. Essential oils for COPD include:
10. Eucalyptus oil
Eucalyptus oil has anti-inflammatory properties.
Eucalyptus oil contains a natural compound called eucalyptol. Eucalyptol may have the following benefits for people with COPD:
- has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
- opens up the airways in the lungs
- reduces mucus production
- helps clear mucus from the lungs
- prevents flare-ups in moderate to severe COPD
The results of one study suggest adding 12 drops of eucalyptus oil to 150 milliliters of boiling water and inhaling up to three times per day.
There is a wide range of eucalyptus oils to choose from online.
11. Myrtol standardized
Myrtol standardized is an essential oil derived from pine, lime, and eucalyptus.
A recent review of 15 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) found that myrtol standardized is a safe and effective treatment for both chronic bronchitis and COPD. However, more large-scale, high-quality RCTs are needed.
When to see a doctor
A person should see a doctor if they have the following symptoms of a COPD exacerbation:
- more shortness of breath
- more mucus production than usual
- mucus that is yellow, green, or brown
- mucus that is thicker or stickier than usual
- cold and flu symptoms
- increased tiredness
Certain signs and symptoms indicate a severe COPD exacerbation. People should call the emergency services right away if they have the following:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- blue lips or fingers
- confusion or agitation
Treating COPD exacerbations early can reduce the likelihood of developing further complications.
COPD is a chronic condition that can be difficult to manage. People can reduce their symptoms at home using certain home remedies, including exercises, breathing techniques, dietary supplements, and essential oils.
If the symptoms of COPD get worse, a person should see their doctor.