Looking after someone with a lung condition

Practical tips for caring - health

In this section, we discuss: 

Caring with confidence

It is important that the person you care for remains well and active. Getting the right guidance, and sometimes training, will help you provide the safest care possible. For example, knowing how to move the person you care for properly will ensure you don’t hurt yourself.

The NHS has a useful online Caring with Confidence programme that covers all the issues.

There is a UK-wide network of carers’ centres, which offer training and education sessions to help you build caring skills, such as moving, handling and first aid. Find your local carers’ centre.

For first aid courses get in touch with:

The British Red Cross
Red Cross First Aid Training
0844 412 2808

St John Ambulance
St John's Ambulance training courses
0844 770 4800

Coping with breathing problems

Breathlessness is a symptom of many lung conditions. It can be distressing for the person you care for, and for you.

But there are some simple things you can do to help the person you care for to manage their breathlessness. Here are some tips:

  • Plan activities in advance and allow plenty of time.
     
  • Help the person you care for to set priorities, so they can use energy for the things they want and need to do most.
     
  • Encourage the person you care for to sit down for activities that use up energy, for example washing or preparing meals.
     
  • Encourage them to rest before and after energetic activities, for example shopping or bathing.
     
  • It is important that you both get a good night’s sleep: having a warm drink, a bath or reading before bed can help relaxation.
     
  • If the person you care for uses oxygen treatment, make sure they have enough.
     
  • Make sure they have a sufficient supply of medication, if they take any.
     
  • Act quickly if you, or they, think they are having a flare-up or have a chest infection – treatment can then be started early.

The person you care for may be shown some techniques to help with their breathing. Ask their health care professional to show you these techniques too, so that you can help with this. 

Find out more about breathing techniques >

Flu vaccinations

People aged 65 and over and people with certain long-term medical conditions, including asthma and COPD, are advised to have a flu vaccination each year, usually in autumn. People in these groups can get the jab free of charge. 

Equipment and medication

As a carer for someone with a lung condition, you might need to be familiar with different types of equipment and medications used to treat lung conditions such as nebulisers, oxygen therapy and steroids. You may wish to ask their health care professional for advice. You can also speak to one of our specialist nurses and advisers on 03000 030 555.

Flare-ups (exacerbations)

It’s important for you and the person you care for to keep track of their symptoms so you both recognise what’s normal for them – and what isn’t.

It’s normal for many people with a long-term lung condition to experience a slight worsening of their symptoms on a day-to-day basis. These normally improve quickly when the person takes their reliever medication and avoids things that trigger symptoms.

A flare-up – sometimes called an exacerbation – is when the person’s symptoms get worse than normal, often suddenly, for a sustained period of time. Symptoms of a flare-up may include:

  • breathlessness becoming worse
  • persistent cough, or increased coughing
  • increase in sputum and a change in sputum colour

The person you care for should have a flare-up plan agreed with their GP or health care professional, which outlines what they should do during a flare-up. As the person’s carer, it’s important that you are familiar with their plan and can spot a flare-up, so you can help them act promptly.

Important
If the person you care for has a severe flare-up, with chest pain, fever and significantly worsened breathing, they should see their GP the same day. If they can’t wait to see their doctor, call 999 straight away.

Being in hospital

Most people can be treated at home if they have a flare-up, but it might be necessary for the person you care for to go into hospital.

This is a worrying time, but there should be a member of staff at the hospital who will be your main point of contact, such as a named nurse. They should keep you informed and involve you in any decisions affecting you and the person you care for.

The hospital should help you prepare for when the person you care for is sent home. Importantly, they should make sure that both you and the person you care for are fit and ready.

Before hospital discharge, get as much information as you can about the medical situation of the person you care for and whether the level of care they need has changed.

Each hospital has its own discharge policy, and you can ask for a copy of this from the hospital’s patient advice and liaison service (PALS) department.

Read about going home from hospital >

Carers UK also has a lot of useful information about preparing for someone’s discharge from hospital.

Working with health care professionals

It is up to you and the person you care for how active a role you play in their consultations with health care professionals. You may decide that your role is to work together, and health care professionals should be open to this and include you in discussions if the person you care for is happy for them to do so.

It’s a good idea to try to build a good relationship with doctors and nurses, and to make sure they are aware how you and the person you care for are affected by their lung condition.

Health care professionals may use technical terms when talking about lung health. Be sure to ask if you or the person you care for do not understand something, or if you need more information.

If you’re not happy with the support you or the person you care for are getting from health or social services, or if you are worried about instances of safeguarding or abuse, Carers UK offers advice on how to complain effectively and challenge decisions. Call the Carers UK Adviceline on 0808 808 7777 (Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm) or email advice@carersuk.org

BLF COPD patient passport

If the person you look after has COPD, you can check they are getting the care they are entitled to by discussing this checklist with their health care professional.

Try the COPD patient passport >

Confidentiality and sharing information

The person you care for has the right to choose whether – and how – they would like information to be shared with you, and with other family members and loved-ones. It is the responsibility of the person you care for to let their health care professionals know if they want information to be shared with you.

Health care professionals should also keep you involved and appropriately informed if, for some reason, the person you care for is unable to indicate their preferences for sharing information.

The way a person gives consent and authorisation for someone else to access their information varies according to the local health service and council. You and the person you care for should ask their GP or health care professional for advice on how to do this. 

Emotions

It’s common for people with long-term conditions, including lung conditions, to feel anxious or depressed. Feeling breathless can make you anxious, which in turn can make breathlessness worse.

If the person you care for feels anxious or depressed, it’s important that they talk to their health care professional. They may be able to suggest therapy or other resources. Some GP practices have a counsellor as part of their team. The specialist nurses and advisers on our helpline are also available to answer your questions.

It’s very important that you look after your own health and wellbeing too.

At times, I’ve felt depressed, sad and resentful. Despite set-backs and severe flare-ups, I’ve found ways through. I’m lucky to have much love and support from my family, particularly my wife who’s my carer, my daughter and my sister. Talking to them eases troubled times or gives me a fresh perspective.” Chris, who has COPD

Next: Practical tips - daily life >

Download our looking after someone with a lung condition PDF (322KB)

Last medically reviewed: November 2015. Due for review: November 2018

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.