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What do Loni Anderson, Christy Turlington, King Edward VII, Johnny Carson and more than 12 million Americans have in common? They have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Another 12 million have it but don’t know it. COPD is now the third leading cause of death in America, yet many people are unaware of COPD and its devastating effect on the lungs.

Signs and symptoms of COPD include cough with mucus, shortness of breath and fatigue. When these signs first occur, people often mistakenly attribute them to aging, being out of shape or “smoker’s cough.” Emphysema, chronic bronchitis or bronchiectasis are the three main types.

There is no cure for COPD, but if you or your loved one has been diagnosed with this progressive disease, here are some ways to help treat the symptoms and offer support.

Toss the cigarettes.

There are a variety of reasons to quit smoking. The use of cigarettes leads to stroke, heart disease and lung cancer, among other things. Now, here is another reason to ditch the soft pack.

Get plenty of exercise.

Regular exercise provides the strength your body needs to maintain lung capacity and help control flare-ups.

Use the cooking vent when preparing meals.

A properly functioning cooking vent dispels cooking fumes from lingering in your home and exacerbating your condition.

Get your flu shot every year.

Along with reducing your chances of flu and pneumonia, a flu shot reduces the onset of COPD flare-ups. Repeated episodes of COPD flare-ups cause a decline in lung function. According to abouthealth, “exacerbations are the number one reason people with COPD seek emergency treatment and get admitted to the hospital.”

Take your prescribed medications, but avoid antihistamines or decongestants.

WebMD warns that with COPD, patients should avoid antihistamines and decongestants because these treatments can thicken mucus, making it even more difficult to cough up. Decongestants raise blood pressure, and some of the drugs used to treat COPD also raise heart rate. They should be used with caution. As always, it is a good idea to talk with your doctor about the best treatments for colds or flu.

Maintain friendships and positive social support.

Everyone needs a friend, especially when one is dealing with health issues. The impact that strong emotional health has on physical health correlates in a variety of health challenges. Reach out to friends and family members. Join a walking group. And connect with other people with COPD for emotional support. Your health will benefit from the positive interaction with those who care.

For the 24 million people suffering from COPD, a few lifestyle changes can make a big difference in the quality of life. By making overall lung health a top priority, adding good nutrition and exercise, making wise decisions with medications and reaching out to a strong support system, you can enjoy a full and happy life.