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Caring for someone with a lung condition

How can I help the person I care for?

On this page, we talk about what you can do to help the person you care for, whether that’s meeting their needs or understanding their condition. 

On this page: 

Understanding their condition 

Over time, carers often become experts in the health condition of the person they care for. 

I very quickly learned that there is so much complexity to this illness and that no one person follows the same path. I live my life constantly watching for any changes in his breathing, his skin and his appetite. Maxine

If you care for someone with a lung condition and want to learn more about the condition they have, you can find out using our health advice: 

Or search for another lung condition.

Day-to-day care

Managing their condition 

Make sure you are all clear about the medication they take, why they take it and how and when it’s best to take it.

Inhaled medicines work best if the inhaler is used in the right way

There are lots of different inhalers and it can be hard to use them correctly. Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist to demonstrate to you and the person you care for the right way to use the inhaler. You can also check the technique by watching inhaler videos.

Talk to health care professionals about the best ways you can work together to manage the condition of the person you care for. This may involve agreeing on a plan about what to do if their symptoms flare up and, sometimes, keeping rescue medications at home.

You can help by encouraging the person you care for to do things to help themselves. These include:

  • learning how to control breathing
  • keeping active
  • eating well and keeping a healthy weight
  • stopping smoking
  • having an annual flu jab, the COVID-19 vaccine, and the one-off pneumonia vaccine
  • looking after their mental health.

Watch out for weight loss

The person you look after may eat less because eating makes them breathless. If you care for someone who is losing weight without planning to, it’s very important to tell their GP or doctor. They may be at risk of malnutrition, which can weaken their breathing muscles and lead to chest infections. The doctor may be able to prescribe a nutritional supplement or refer them to a dietitian. 

Read our information about nutrition and how to maintain a healthy weight

Caring for someone who gets breathless 

It can be hard to watch someone you care for struggling to breathe. When someone is breathless, it can be difficult to keep active and do everyday things. It can help to think ahead. For example:

  • agree which activities are priorities and plan the day so there is time to rest before and after them
  • suggest they do things in ways that affect their breathing less, like sitting down to wash or prepare meals, or using a towelling robe after a shower to dry off.

The person you care for can also learn ways to feel more in control of their breathing:

  • Ask a health care professional if pulmonary rehabilitation could help the person you look after. This is a course for people with lung conditions to help them keep active and learn more about their condition, including coping with feeling short of breath. If they are referred, you can go along too!
  • They could also ask to see a respiratory physiotherapist to learn:
    • breathing techniques to help them breathe more efficiently and to feel more in control
    • positions which help to recover from breathlessness
    • ways to clear their airways of mucus.

You can read more about breathlessness and ways to help manage it in our online information.

How can I help the person I care for to keep active? 

It’s important to encourage the person you care for to keep as active as possible. If someone avoids activities that make them breathless, their muscles will get weaker. Weaker muscles need more oxygen to work.

For many people with a long-term lung condition, exercise can help them manage their condition, build their confidence, improve their quality of life and boost their mood. 

Sometimes I see people in the exercise class who are scared of getting breathless. But it’s important they keep exercising – and their carers encourage them to. Dave 

If you care for someone who gets breathless, ask about getting pulmonary rehabilitation. It’s important to keep exercising after the course finishes.

There are lots of other ways to keep active. Choose ones the person you look after enjoys – or that you enjoy doing together. As well as activities like walking or gardening, they could try other activities like an exercise class, yoga, dancing, or tai chi. 

The person you care for may also want to try singing. Singing can improve feelings of shortness of breath, help control breathing and help them to manage symptoms better. 

We have plenty of resources to help you keep active, including our exercise handbook and online exercise videos. Take a look at our keeping active information for more details.

Avoiding infections 

If you look after someone with a lung condition, you’ll want to lower their chances of getting a chest infection. Chest infections can cause their symptoms to suddenly get worse, this is called a flare-up.

If a flare-up makes a person feel more breathless than usual, they may also get anxious. Being anxious will, in turn, make them feel even more breathless. Have a look at our information on how to cope with anxiety, panic attacks and breathlessness.

Colds, flu, and the coronavirus spread very easily. Particularly during colder months, think about:

  • the benefits of going out and meeting other people against the risk of getting an infection
  • avoiding contact with anyone who you know has a cold or another illness. Your friends will understand
  • getting a flu jab each year, the COVID-19 vaccine, and the one-off pneumonia vaccine
  • using an anti-bacterial hand sanitiser 
  • making sure you and everyone else covers their nose and mouth with a tissue when they sneeze.

What if the person I care for suddenly gets worse?  

Whatever the condition of the person you care for, make sure you talk to their health care professionals about how their symptoms might get worse and what you can do if that happens.

For some conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchiectasis and asthma, where it’s common for symptoms to flare up, UK guidelines recommend the person you care for has a plan, agreed with by health care professionals. The plan will set out signs to look out for, what to do and, when to get emergency help. 

Depending on the condition of the person you care for, their health care professional may also suggest keeping standby drugs at home, sometimes called a rescue pack.

Self-management help:  

How can I give emotional support as a carer?  

As a carer, you give both practical and emotional support, just by being a good listener. It’s common for some people living with a lung condition to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Here are some tips to help someone if they’re feeling down:  

  • Let them know you care and are there to listen, without judgement. 
  • Encourage them to help themselves, for example with eating well and staying active. 
  • Make sure they’re staying in touch with friends and family, as people who are anxious or depressed may become isolated. 
  • Speak to your GP or find other sources of support such as psychological therapy or support groups

It’s important to make sure you’re looking after your own mental wellbeing, as well as the person you care for. Read more about taking care of your own needs and getting support as a carer.

Equipment and technology

Someone living with a lung condition may find they benefit from a range of equipment and technologies to help make life and day-to-day tasks easier. 

The Jointly app 

Jointly is an app created by Carers UK. It’s designed to make communication easier between the circle of people who care. As well as messaging, you can keep notes, lists, create calendar events, keep track of medication, and create a useful contacts list. 

Find out more about the Jointly app at Carers UK.

Equipment around the house 

You and the person you care for may find it useful to have some equipment around the house to help with everyday tasks. For example, the person you care for may benefit from things like: 

  • Wheeled trollies to help move small items around the house easier. 
  • Bath cushions and shower seats to help make washing more comfortable.
  • Ramps for wheelchairs if needed. 
  • Stairlifts if they’re too breathless for walking up the stairs. 
  • Raised toilet seats to help you get on and off the toilet easier. They might even benefit from a commode (a seat with a hidden toilet) if getting to the bathroom is difficult.   

How can I get the equipment? 

You can ask your local council or health service for a free home assessment. They will come and assess your situation and recommend equipment to suit the person you care for. 

Your council should pay for equipment that costs less than £1,000. You can apply for a home assessment here.

You may also be eligible for a grant, or you could hire or loan the equipment. Independence at Home has useful information about grants, and Living Made Easy and Ask Sara provide help with finding equipment. 

Further caring support

Carers tell us that it can be hard to find time for themselves, whether that’s balancing work and caring, or finding time for your own activities. The good news is that there are ways to get extra support caring for your loved one. 

Ask friends or family for help

Building up a support network can make a big difference. Think about the kind of help you might need from your family, friends and neighbours – especially if you’re ever unwell and can’t care for your loved one. Involve the person you care for in thinking about who can help.

Respite care 

If you need a break from caring, you may want to think about respite care. There are lots of different options for respite care, from getting a volunteer to sit with the person you look after for a few hours, to taking them out to an activity group or day centre. 

For more information about respite care, and for finding your local services, visit the NHS website.

NHS continuing healthcare 

The person you care for could be entitled to NHS continuing healthcare. It covers the full cost of care in your home, or in a care home. The person you care for may qualify if they have a ‘primary health need’, which means the care must involve managing their health needs rather than social or personal needs. 

Find out more about NHS continuing healthcare.

Next: Support for carers

Download our carers information (PDF, 323KB)

We use your comments to improve our information. We cannot reply to comments left on this form. If you have health concerns or need clinical advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

Last medically reviewed: November 2021. Due for review: November 2024

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.