Although there is no cure for COPD yet, there are many changes you can make to your daily routine and habits that will help you live well with the condition.
Everyone will have different triggers that affect their lungs, this could be traffic pollution, dry ice, smoke from a wood burning stove, spices or many other things. The important thing is working out what makes your condition worse and taking steps to avoid or reduce contact with these things.
People with COPD can have flare ups linked to seasonal changes, for example a high pollen count in the spring and summer or very cold air in the winter. Here are some tips to help you
- In the spring and summer the pollen level may affect your lungs. If you have had your bedroom window open during the day cover the bed with a dust sheet and carefully remove it before bed. This will catch any pollen coming through the open window during the day
- If you dry your clothes outside during the summer remember this might increase the amount of pollen on them
- In summer use a damp cloth over your hair when you come in from outside as this will help remove the pollen stuck to you
- Take your coat and shoes off before entering your house to avoid bringing in too much pollen and carrying it through your house
- In winter wear a scarf over your mouth when you go outside to stop cold air irritating your lungs
- Have your flu vaccine. If you have COPD, getting flu can cause lots of problems and trigger a serious flare-up of your condition
For more information on managing flare ups visit the British Lung Foundation.
What to do in a panic attack
Many people start to panic when they feel breathless. To prevent a panic attack one thing you can do is find out more about your condition. If you understand what is happening to your body it takes away the panic from not knowing what is happening to you. Find out more about COPD on NHS inform.
If you do have a panic attack the following tips could help:
- learn to breathe – it is a good idea to learn relaxation techniques to help your breathing, particularly if you have a panic attack
- Sing happy birthday - this might sound strange but concentrating on singing a well known song will help change your focus and regulate your breathing
- remember that breathlessness is normal and not to be feared – people without COPD get breathless when they exercise, climb stairs etc.
- don't blame yourself for your condition or your symptoms in that moment, focus on making improvements to your lifestyle to live better with COPD
There are various breathing techniques that some people find helpful for panic attacks or breathlessness. These include breathing control, which involves breathing gently, using the least effort, with the shoulders supported.
Breathing techniques for people who are more active include:
- relaxed, slow deep breathing
- breathing through pursed lips, as if whistling
- breathing out hard when doing an activity that needs a big effort
- paced breathing, using a rhythm in time with the activity, such as climbing stairs
In the home
You can make living with COPD easier by making small changes to your home, you might find some of these suggestions helpful:
- vacuum your bed and keep dust in the house down
- try wet dusting rather than dry dusting to remove dust particles
- avoid chemical sprays for cleaning, try using more traditional methods such as vinegar and lemon juice. There are also now many wipe versions of popular cleaning products available
- use roll on deodorant instead of spray deodorant
- avoid plug in air freshners
Many people find having a long term condition link COPD very isolating. There are many benefits to joining a local support group for COPD:
- you learn a lot of useful information on how to cope with your condition
- you can learn from others in the same situation
- you realise you are not alone
- you can make good friends – some groups organise holidays, outings and Christmas parties together
- you have the support of others who really understand what you are going through
- other members may have more than one long term condition and may be able to help you with other conditions you might have
- people can become isolated because of their condition and can lose friends, joining a support group is a good way of connecting with a new social circle
Some people with COPD find using a dehumidifier in the home improves their symptoms. These are available from many online retailers.
Others find that wearing a mask on airplanes or when walking in the city can help to reduce the impact of "recycled" air traffic pollution on the lungs.
Using a walker or trolley can provide extra support when walking and means that you don't have to carry shopping on your arms, so the weight is spread more evenly. Many walkers/trolleys also have a seat option so you can rest if you need to.
Relationships and sex
Relationships with friends and family
Having a chronic illness such as COPD can put a strain on any relationship. Difficulty breathing and coughing can make people with COPD feel very tired and depressed. It is also inevitable that their spouse, partner or carer will feel anxious or frustrated about their breathing problems. It is important to talk about your worries together.
Being open about how you feel and what your family and friends can do to help may put them at ease. But do not feel shy about telling them that you need some time to yourself, if that is what you want.
Your sex life
As COPD progresses, the increasing breathlessness can make it difficult to take part in activities. The breathlessness may occur during sexual activity, which may mean your sex life can suffer.
Communicate with your partner and stay open-minded. Explore what you both like sexually. Simply touching, being touched and being close to someone helps a person feel loved and special.
Your doctor, nurse or physiotherapist may also be able to suggest ways to help manage breathlessness during sex.
If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and are planning to fly, go to your GP for a fitness-to-fly assessment. This involves checking your breathing using spirometry and measuring your oxygen levels.
Before travelling, remember to pack all your medication, such as inhalers, in your hand luggage.
If you are using oxygen therapy, tell your travel operator and airline before you book your holiday, as you may need to get a medical form from your GP. If you are using long-term oxygen therapy, arrange to take an adequate oxygen supply with you abroad.
Want to know more, read the British Lung Foundation information about going on holiday with a lung condition
Money and financial support
People with COPD often have to give up work because their breathlessness stops them from doing what they need to do for their job. This can cause financial pressure.
There are several benefits for which people with COPD may be eligible:
- if you have a job but cannot work because of your illness, you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from your employer
- if you do not have a job and cannot work because of your illness, you may be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance
- if you are caring for someone with COPD, you may be entitled to Carer’s Allowance
- you may be eligible for other benefits if you have children living at home or if you have a low household income
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End of life care
COPD is a serious condition. At least 25,000 people die each year from the end stages of COPD.
As with other conditions that cannot be reversed or cured, it is important to receive good care at the end of life. Talking about this and planning it in advance can be helpful. This is called palliative care.
It can be difficult to talk about dying with your doctor and, particularly with family and friends, but many people find that it helps. Support is also available for your family and friends.
It may be helpful to discuss which symptoms you may have as you become more seriously ill, and the treatments that are available to reduce these.
As COPD progresses, your doctor should work with you to establish a clear management plan based on your and your carer's wishes. This will include whether you would prefer to go to hospital, a hospice or be looked after at home as you become more ill.
You may want to discuss drawing up an advance decision, also called a living will, which sets out your wishes for treatment if you become too ill to be consulted. This might include whether you want to be resuscitated if you stop breathing, and whether you want artificial ventilation to be continued.
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