Living well with COPD

COPD can affect your life in many ways. Help is available to reduce its impact.

Things you can do to help your symptoms

Making some practical changes to your daily routine can help your symptoms.

Do

  • stop smoking if you smoke
  • live a healthy lifestyle
  • be as active as possible
  • learn breathing techniques
  • take your medication
  • get vaccinated against flu and coronavirus
  • pace yourself
  • maintain a healthy weight

Everyone will have different triggers that affect their lungs. This could be traffic pollution, dry ice, smoke from a wood burning stove, spices, changes in temperature or many other things. It’s important to work out what triggers make your condition worse and take steps to avoid them.

COPD support groups

Many people find having a long-term condition or ‘invisible condition’ isolating. The changes in their situation can lead them to withdraw from work and social life. This can have a serious impact on your mental wellbeing.

Joining your local COPD support group is a good way to meet people who understand what you are going through. They can help give you advice on how to live well with COPD and support you through difficult times.

Many groups also offer outings, social occasions and hobby classes such as singing or walking.

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.

If you do have a panic attack the following tips could help:

  • learn to breathe – it’s a good idea to learn relaxation techniques to help your breathing
  • sing happy birthday – concentrating on singing a well known song will help change your focus and bring your breathing back to normal
  • remember that breathlessness is normal – people without COPD get breathless sometimes too
  • don’t blame yourself for your condition or your symptoms in that moment

Breathing techniques

There are breathing techniques that can help panic attacks or breathlessness. These include breathing control. This 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

Equipment

Some people find that wearing a mask on aeroplanes or when walking in the city can help to reduce the impact of pollution on the lungs.

Using a walker or trolley can provide extra support when walking. It means that you don’t have to carry shopping on your arms, so the weight is spread more evenly. Many walkers or trolleys also have a seat option so you can rest if you need to.

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 tired and depressed. Their spouse, partner or carer may feel anxious or frustrated about their breathing problems. It’s 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’s 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.

Flying

If you have 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. 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.

Read further information about travelling 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 benefits people with COPD may be eligible for:

  • if you have a job but cannot work because of your illness, you’re 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
  • disability benefits

Read further information:

End of life care

As with other conditions that cannot be reversed or cured, it’s important to receive good care at the end of life. This is called palliative care. Talking about this and planning it in advance can be helpful.

As COPD progresses, your doctor should work with you to plan based on your and your carer’s wishes. This’ll include whether you would prefer to go to hospital, a hospice or be looked after at home as you become more ill.

Read further information:


Last updated:
20 May 2024