Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can affect many aspects of your life. But there are some simple tips to help reduce its impact.
Looking after yourself
It's important to take good care of yourself if you have COPD.
Some of the main things you'll be advised to do are outlined below.
Take your medication
It's important to take any prescribed medication, including inhalers, as this can help prevent bad flare-ups.
It's also a good idea to read the information leaflet that comes with your medication about possible interactions with other medicines or supplements.
Check with your care team if you plan to take any over-the-counter remedies, such as painkillers or nutritional supplements. These can sometimes interfere with your medication.
Also speak to your care team if you have any concerns about the medication you're taking or you're experiencing any side effects.
If you smoke, stopping can help slow down or prevent further damage to your lungs.
Exercising regularly can help improve your symptoms and quality of life.
The amount of exercise you can do will depend on your individual circumstances. Exercising until you're a little breathless isn't dangerous, but don't push yourself too far.
It's a good idea to speak to your GP for advice before starting a new exercise programme if your symptoms are severe or you haven't exercised in a while.
You may be advised to participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation programme, which will include a structured exercise plan tailored to your needs and ability.
Maintain a healthy weight
Carrying extra weight can make breathlessness worse, so it's a good idea to lose weight through a combination of regular exercise and a healthy diet if you're overweight.
Alternatively, some people with COPD find that they lose weight. Eating food high in protein and taking in enough calories is important to maintain a healthy weight.
You may see a dietitian as part of a pulmonary rehabilitation programme if necessary.
COPD can put a significant strain on your body and mean you're more vulnerable to infections.
Check the weather
Cold spells and periods of hot weather and humidity can cause breathing problems if you have COPD.
It's a good idea to keep an eye on the weather forecast and make sure you have enough of your medication to hand in case your symptoms get temporarily worse.
Watch what you breathe
There are certain things that should be avoided if possible to reduce COPD symptoms and the chances of a flare-up, including:
· dusty places
· fumes, such as car exhausts
· air freshener sprays or plug-ins
· strong-smelling cleaning products (unless there's plenty of ventilation)
Regular reviews and monitoring
You'll have regular contact with your care team to monitor your condition.
These appointments may involve:
· talking about your symptoms – such as whether they're affecting your normal activities or are getting worse
· a discussion about your medication – including whether you think you might be experiencing any side effects
· tests to monitor your health
Contact your GP or care team if your symptoms get suddenly worse or you develop new symptoms between your check-ups.
There are various breathing techniques that some people find helpful for breathlessness.
These include breathing control, which involves breathing gently using the least effort, with the shoulders supported. This can help when people with COPD feel short of breath.
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
If you have a chesty cough that produces a lot of phlegm, you may be taught a specific technique to help you clear your airways called the active cycle breathing technique.
Relationships with friends and family
Having a long-term illness such as COPD can put a strain on any relationship.
Difficulty breathing and coughing can make you feel tired and depressed.
Your spouse, partner or carer may also have a lot of concerns about your health. 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 don't 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 strenuous activities. The breathlessness may occur during sexual activity, which may mean your sex life can suffer.
Talk to 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 with COPD
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.