How can I manage my COPD better?
If you have a long-term condition like COPD, you’ll feel better if you self-manage your condition and take some control of your life.
“If you have a lung condition, you can’t sit around and wait for other people to take care of you – you need to take care of yourself! I fully believe you get out of it what you put in”
Knowing all you can about your condition, your symptoms, your medications and how to cope with flare-ups will make your day-to-day life easier.
This page talks about:
- exercise and pulmonary rehabilitation
- learning how to control your breathing
- managing breathlessness
- eating well and keeping a healthy weight
- getting vaccinated
- taking care of your feelings
- managing flare-ups
- what else you can do
If you have COPD, being active and exercising can help you to improve your breathing, your fitness and your quality of life. Don’t avoid activities that make you breathless: you’ll get less fit and out of breath more easily. Regular exercise can help reverse this by strengthening your muscles. Exercise also benefits your heart and blood pressure, and makes you less likely to develop conditions such as diabetes and osteoporosis (fragile bone disease).
The best way to learn how to exercise at the right level for you is to take part in pulmonary rehabilitation. Ask your doctor to refer you.
Pulmonary rehabilitation or PR is a programme of exercise and education designed for people living with COPD. It combines physical exercise sessions with advice and discussions about your lung health.
There is strong evidence that people with COPD benefit from PR and exercise more generally. Most people find PR improves their ability to exercise and their quality of life. The impact of PR is often bigger than the impact of taking inhaled medications. By combining the two approaches, you’re likely to get the most benefit.
There are techniques to help you reduce breathlessness. Try to practise them every day. They can also help if you get out of breath suddenly. Being in control of your breathing means breathing gently, using the least effort, with your shoulders supported and relaxed.
Different things work best for different people. We've put together some techniques and positions to try.
Top tips for managing breathlessness
- Use a towelling robe after showering or bathing, as you’ll use less energy than drying off with a towel.
- Hold a handheld battery fan near your face if it helps you to feel less breathless.
- Plan your day in advance to make sure you have plenty of opportunities to rest.
- Find simple ways to cook, clean and do other chores. You could use a small table or cart with wheels to move things around your home, and a pole or tongs with long handles to reach things.
- Put items that you use frequently in easy-to-reach places.
- Keep your clothes loose, and wear clothes and shoes that are easy to put on and take off.
- Use a wheeled walking frame to help improve your breathlessness.
It’s important to eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight. Your doctor or nurse can help you to work out what your healthy weight should be and can refer you to a dietician or local scheme to help you.
- If you’re overweight it will be harder for you to breathe and move around.
- If you’re losing too much weight because eating makes you feel breathless, or find it difficult to shop and prepare meals, try to eat little and often.
Make sure you get your flu jab every year to protect you against the flu viruses likely to be going round over the winter. The NHS offers it for free to people living with long-term conditions like COPD.
Your doctor should also offer you a vaccination against pneumococcal infection – a bacterial infection that can cause pneumonia and other illnesses. You only need to have this once.
You can also avoid infections by staying away from people – including babies – who have colds, flu, sinus infections or a sore throat. If you do get an infection, make sure you treat it quickly.
Our Breathe Easy groups support people living with a lung condition and their family. It’s a great way to get more information and make new friends. Find your local group.
Living with a long-term condition is not easy. Physical symptoms such as breathlessness and coughing, feeling more tired and being less active can mean you feel stressed, anxious or depressed.
It helps to understand your mood and what causes you to feel down. Once you understand it, you can take steps to tackle it and take greater control of your life.
Don’t bottle things up – talking to a friend or relative or a health care professional can help. It’s very important to stay active and sociable, and to learn more about COPD. This will help you to understand and cope better with your condition. You might want to get involved with a local group to meet others going through a similar experience. You can also talk to your doctor about medications or counselling to help you stay positive.
Some people with COPD who joined a singing group said singing helped them to manage their symptoms better.
“My breathing is so much better at the end of each session. So nice to see everyone each week”
A flare-up – sometimes called an exacerbation – is when your symptoms become particularly severe.
You should have an action plan that you’ve agreed with your health care professional so you know what to do if you have a flare-up. Your plan may include a rescue pack of drugs (antibiotics and steroid tablets) that you keep at home.
Remember, if you smoke, stopping smoking is the best thing you can do.
Make sure you sleep well and get enough rest every day. This will help with your energy levels. If you have trouble sleeping, try to exercise each day and don’t have tea, coffee or alcohol before bed time. Talk to your doctor if that doesn’t help.
Ask your doctor about ways you can adapt your home to help you move around more easily. An occupational therapist and your local council can help you with this.
If your ankles swell, tell your doctor. Medicines can reduce this. But many people with COPD have other conditions, and leg swelling can be a sign of a heart condition.
It’s important to talk to your doctor or nurse about longer-term treatments and advance care planning. This means thinking about what you would like to happen if your condition gets worse, or you experience more severe flare-ups, to help your family and your doctor to understand your wishes. Find out more about advance care planning and taking control of your choices. If you'd like to speak to somebody, you can call our helpline on 03000 030 555 (Monday-Friday between 9am and 5pm).