This is where a good management plan can make all the difference, and while good plans will all be similar in their objectives it's the implementation that can make the difference. So where do we start?
If becoming breathless is the trigger, having your rescue inhaler in close proximity is a must. Mine never leaves my side.
Considering what is going to make you feel more comfortable is important, as is how the people around you will react and their role. What's your thought process when the symptoms are becoming worse and what will you do if your symptoms don't subside?
Having experienced plenty of panic attacks myself, my plan is as follows as soon as I start to experience symptoms:
- Ensure I have my rescue inhaler and pulse oximeter
- Have a phone close by if nobody is around
- Sit down on a chair rather than lying down on a bed, as I can control my breathing better sitting.
- Check oxygen levels
- Focus on techniques that help me relax and control my breathing (pursed lips breathing)
- Try to stay calm and not become worked up
- Take my rescue inhaler if I feel I can't get my breathing under control
- If symptoms continue to worsen with no sign of reversing, contact my doctor or hospital immediately.
Never be afraid to call for assistance if you need to, as it's better to be safe than sorry. I always make sure that if people are around, they don't make conversation, as it is near impossible to get my breathing under control if I have to talk as well.
While my plan works for me, you may do it differently. The main thing is that you have a plan in place so rather than having a panic attack you just take some time out to get that breathing under control.
Prevention is Always Best
I haven't suffered panic attacks for a while. The last one I had was while swim training with a wetsuit on. My chest was restricted and my wetsuit was making it worse. Fortunately I was able to get my breathing under control.
If you ask me why I haven't suffered from panic attacks for some time, I'd tell you it's because of the way I look after my body. It really doesn't matter at what stage of COPD you’re at — keeping your body in the best shape possible from the inside out will help.
When you think about how your body works and the role of oxygen in that process then it makes sense — whether you have respiratory disease or not — that the more efficiently your body uses oxygen the better you'll feel. This leads to the two most important things you can do for your body outside of taking your medication: keeping the weight off and regular exercise.
Be aware of what you’re eating and drinking, as too much of either can cause breathlessness that can take time to subside. You should also determine whether your COPD is well managed, as often patients who suffer panic attacks have COPD that is not under control.
Have you had pulmonary function tests, seen a pulmonary specialist or been to pulmonary rehabilitation classes? Check to make sure you’re taking your medication at the right dosage and sequence, as this can make a noticeable difference on how breathless you are. Taking your long-acting inhaler (preventer or controller) regularly rather than just using your rescue inhaler when you need it is far more effective. If you’re unsure about the order or dosage, then contact your doctor to discuss.
All these steps will help you not only manage your COPD better, they will also help you deal with exacerbations and related panic attacks. A well-managed well-educated COPD patient is always going deal with what this disease dishes out better than a patient with their head in the sand.