Nowadays, we rely on our devices for just about everything. Cellphones, for example, are used for everything from making calls and sending text messages to tracking our fitness progress or staying connected with online communities. If you’ve been diagnosed with COPD or another chronic respiratory ailment, this reliance on technology doesn’t go away. In some cases, you might even be more dependent on technology than previously. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though as long as you’re using devices that are reliable and match your lifestyle.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at seven of the most important devices you can own with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or you’ve been living with COPD for some time, these devices are considered to be essential by many or at the very least, incredibly convenient to have. If you have any questions, be sure to leave them in the comment section below, and don’t forget to bookmark our blog page so that you never miss our latest articles.
Portable Oxygen Concentrator
At one point or another, most COPD patients will need to use supplemental oxygen. When the lungs are impaired due to chronic inflammation, supplemental oxygen ensures that the oxygen levels in your blood are normal; and in turn, every organ in your body receives the oxygen it needs to function properly. Supplemental oxygen not only improves your longevity as a COPD patient, but it can also help you feel better in the moment. Oxygen therapy will reduce breathlessness, fatigue, and lightheadedness associated with low oxygen levels.
However, many people falter when it comes to actually choosing the oxygen device that they will use. Patients and healthcare providers often default to oxygen tanks or liquid oxygen tanks because they are cheap and thus have a low barrier of entry. However, when it comes to the patient’s long-term health and well-being, they often find that these oxygen devices are lacking in many ways. First and foremost, they have to be refilled once the oxygen in them is depleted. This can be costly and takes your time and attention away from more important things like spending time with friends and family.
Another problem with oxygen tanks is that they are heavy and bulky. Chances are, you’ve seen people walking around while lugging around a big green tank behind them. The reason these tanks are so big is that they contain compressed oxygen gas which takes up a lot of space. This problem is somewhat mitigated by using a tank that stores oxygen in its liquid form but this still has a lot of problems associated with it. In most cases, the best alternative is to use something called a portable oxygen concentrator.
Unlike oxygen tanks which limit your freedom and mobility, portable oxygen concentrators are designed for people who are on the go frequently and need something reliable. Rather than storing oxygen within the unit, POCs draw in ambient air and remove unnecessary gases, then put out medical-grade oxygen. POCs are electronic devices that run off of powerful lithium-ion batteries. In other words, you simply need access to either a wall or car outlet to charge the batteries, then you will be set for the rest of the day!
Another important device to own as a COPD patient is a nebulizer. What a nebulizer does is crush up your COPD medication into a fine mist called aerosol so that it can be inhaled more easily by the patient. This helps the medication reach your lungs faster and thus is faster-acting than medication that is taken orally. You should be sure to speak with your doctor to see if nebulizers are right for you.
Many people think of nebulizers as devices that they can only use at home, however, there’s been a sudden emergence of portable nebulizers that you can take with you if you go on a trip. Nebulizers differ from inhalers in that they put out a constant stream of aerosol whereas inhalers put out “puffs.” This is beneficial for people with severe COPD who may not be able to inhale deeply or sharply enough to bring the medication into their lungs. With a nebulizer, however, you can simply breathe naturally and be sure that the medication is reaching your lungs.
Much like portable oxygen concentrators, nebulizers are usually electronic devices that either run off of a battery or they need to be plugged into an electrical outlet. It should be noted that not all medications can be administered through a nebulizer. Most likely, your doctor will only have you use medication known as bronchodilators which open up your airways in the event of a COPD exacerbation. Bronchodilators include Pulmicort, Xopenex, albuterol, and more.
A pulse oximeter is a device that measures the level of oxygen saturation in your blood. Pulse oximeters are very small and lightweight and they’re the least invasive way to check whether you’re getting enough oxygen or not. One of the only other alternatives is arterial blood gas (ABG) analysis which requires your doctor to draw blood in order to determine your oxygen saturation level. While these readings are oftentimes more accurate than pulse oximetry they require you to be at the doctor’s office in order to get your results. Pulse oximeters can be used anywhere and anytime.
Pulse oximeters work by passing light through the finger and measuring the amount of light that comes out the other side. This determines the amount of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood cells and thus your blood oxygen saturation. Many people are surprised to find that these devices cost under $20. However, if you want a more advanced one that connects to your cellphone or smart device, it could run you over $100. Either way, this is something that all COPD patients should have so that they can ensure that they’re receiving enough oxygen. It can also help you determine whether your oxygen device is working properly.
High-Frequency Chest Wall Oscillation Vest
Mucus plays a very important role in the body. It coats the lining of your lungs and airways and if you inhale irritants or bacteria, the mucus traps it so that it can be cleared before it leads to an infection. Unfortunately, many COPD patients aren’t able to create an expiratory force great enough to clear mucus, and as a result, it becomes lodged in the airways. Years of smoking can also damage the cilia in the airways which are small cells that help pass the mucus out of the lungs. Most COPD patients are taught about airway clearance techniques but these can become very exhausting to do on a daily basis.
Alternatively, COPD patients can invest in something called a high-frequency chest wall oscillation vest. This looks just like a life jacket but it attaches to a machine that vibrates the vest at a high frequency. This causes the mucus in your chest to loosen, and after a few minutes, you can remove the vest and try a huff cough to expel the mucus. The main downside to these vests is that they can run you a pretty penny so it’s best to speak with your doctor before investing in one. What’s more, they aren’t very portable so you should plan to buy one for in-home use only.
Positive Expiratory Pressure Device
A positive expiratory pressure (PEP) device has a similar function to that of a high-frequency chest wall oscillation vest which we discussed above. However, the PEP device is much smaller and lighter so you can carry it in your purse, handbag, or pocket when you leave the house. With the PEP device, you will blow into a mouthpiece that creates air resistance. This air resistance will keep your airways open as you exhale meaning the mucus can move more freely without obstruction.
If you’ve ever tried the technique called pursed-lip breathing, you know what to expect with a PEP device. During pursed-lip breathing, you inhale deeply through your nose and then out through pursed lips. This helps to reduce chest tightness and get more air into your lungs. The PEP device makes this a little easier because you don’t have to control the amount of resistance so you can focus more on your breathing. PEP devices are also fairly cheap at around $30 to $50 apiece.
Words cannot express how important it is to maintain your mobility as you get older. Unfortunately, someone with COPD will likely begin to lose their mobility sooner than most due to reduced lung capacity, however, the good news is that there are plenty of mobility aids to keep you on your feet and moving. Probably one of the more popular mobility devices for people with respiratory ailments is a rollator. This is like a walker but it has wheels on the bottom and brakes so that you have better control. In the middle, there is a small platform where you can put your oxygen device your sit on if you get fatigued.
Another mobility aid that many COPD patients use is an electric scooter. These are best for people with very advanced lung disease who may not be able to walk more than a short distance on their own. Electric scooters offer a lot of storage room for your portable oxygen concentrator as well as personal belongings. However, the downside is that they need to be recharged after a certain amount of use and they are difficult to transport from place to place. Unless you have a caretaker who can help you out with these things, an electric scooter may not be the best option for you.
Last but certainly not least, there are in-home mobility devices like stairlifts. A stairlift is essentially an elevator designed for people who have trouble walking up and down the stairs. While these devices are very safe to use and can save you a lot of hassle, they are also pretty expensive because a professional will need to come to your home to install them. What’s more, they can wear out over time so you may need to call someone to have it repaired or replaced at some point.
Smartphone or Tablet
Most people have some type of smart device but for the few who do not, it’s worth upgrading, especially if you have COPD or another respiratory condition. Many portable oxygen concentrators like the Inogen One G5 and Caire FreeStyle Comfort make use of smartphone applications to enhance the user’s experience. These apps allow you to do things like track your oxygen usage, check the device user manual and even remotely check your oxygen flow and battery life.
There are many other applications that can make your life easier with COPD. For example, AirNow.gov has a mobile application that allows you to quickly and easily check the air quality in your area which is useful for planning trips. There are apps that can help you plan your diet and exercise routine with COPD as well. Be sure to check out this post where we take a look at some of the best mobile applications for COPD patients.
Being diagnosed with COPD can be life-changing. You’ll need to take steps to slow the progression of your disease like improving your diet, exercise routine, and taking regular trips to the doctor’s office. While this may seem overwhelming at first, it’s helpful to know that there are many resources at your disposal. Not least of which are devices like portable oxygen concentrators, nebulizers, and pulse oximeters. If you have any questions about what you read here, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment. If you’re on the market for a portable oxygen concentrator be sure to reach out to our respiratory specialists by phone or email.