GP Zone

Looking after yourself

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) cannot be cured with treatment, but medical treatments, breathing exercises, physical activity and stopping smoking can help control symptoms and limit disability.

Self care

Self care is an integral part of daily life and is all about you taking responsibility for your own health and well-being with support from the people involved in your care. Self care includes the actions you take for yourself every day in order to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health, prevent illness or accidents and care more effectively for minor ailments and long term conditions. 

People living with long term conditions can benefit enormously from being supported to self care - they can live longer, have less pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue, have a better quality of life and be more active and independent.

Do some exercise

People with COPD who exercise or keep active regularly have improved breathing, less severe symptoms and a better quality of life.

For most people with COPD who are disabled by their breathlessness, a structured programme of pulmonary rehabilitation provided by experienced healthcare professionals does the most good. Getting breathless is unpleasant but it is not harmful. Every patient should exercise as much as they can, however limited that may seem, twice a day. Even chair-bound people can do some arm and upper body movements.

Research shows that pulmonary rehabilitation improves exercise tolerance, breathlessness and health-related quality of life. It results in people seeing doctors less often and spending less time in hospital.

Keep to a healthy weight

Carrying extra weight can make breathlessness worse, so it is good to lose some pounds if you are overweight. This can be difficult because the breathlessness caused by COPD can make it hard to exercise.

However, some people with COPD find that they lose weight because they use up so much energy breathing. Eating food that is high in protein, and taking in enough calories, is important to maintain a healthy weight.

Research has shown that people with COPD who are underweight will have fewer COPD symptoms if they manage to increase their weight.

You can find out if you are overweight or underweight with the healthy weight calculator.

Breathing techniques

There are various breathing techniques that some people find helpful for breathlessness. These include breathing control: 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 

Get immunised

Two vaccines are recommended for people with COPD, which are designed to reduce the risk of flare-ups:

  • A yearly flu jab, given each autumn, protects against flu (influenza) and so reduces the risk of associated chest infections
  • Anti-pneumoccocal vaccination, a one-off injection that provides protection against a specific serious chest infection called pneumococcal pneumonia

Check the weather

Check the forecast to see if the weather is going to have an effect on COPD symptoms. Keep a look out especially for cold spells lasting for at least a week and periods of hot weather and humidity, both of which can cause breathing problems.

The Met Office provides a service called Healthy Outlook COPD Forecast Alert. It warns people when the weather is likely to make their symptoms worse, and suggests simple measures they can take to stay well. The scheme provides weekly weather forecasts, warning people whether the risk of the weather causing an exacerbation of COPD is 'normal' or 'elevated'.

There is also a system for contacting all patients who have registered with the scheme when the forecast risk rises to 'elevated'. Patients are warned by an automated telephone call about expected weather conditions, and referred to information packs for further advice. The system then asks whether their symptoms have become worse than normal, and if they have enough medication for the next two weeks. It alerts the patient's GP surgery about the call, and their responses are stored in a database, which the GP staff can use for follow-up.

Asthma

There is no cure for asthma, but with the right support and treatment you can control your symptoms and lead a healthy, active life.

Self care

Self care is an integral part of daily life and is all about you taking responsibility for your own health and well-being with support from the people involved in your care. Self care includes the actions you take for yourself every day in order to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health, prevent illness or accidents and care more effectively for minor ailments and long term conditions. 

People living with long term conditions can benefit enormously from being supported to self care - they can live longer, have less pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue, have a better quality of life and be more active and independent.

With the right treatment and management, asthma should not restrict your daily life.

  • Sleeping
    Asthma symptoms are often worse at night. This means you might wake up some nights coughing or with a tight chest. This will obviously disrupt your sleep. Achieving good control of asthma by using the treatment your GP recommends will reduce your symptoms, so you should sleep better.
  • Exercise
    Some people with asthma find that exercise triggers asthma symptoms. This does not mean you should avoid it, as physical activity will improve lung function and general health. Talk to your doctor about what to do before exercising, for example, using your inhaler before or after exercise to prevent symptoms.
  • Social life
    You should be able to enjoy a full social life, unaffected by your asthma. However, it is a good idea to avoid cigarette smoke, which is now much easier since the introduction of the smoking ban.
  • Diet
    Most people with asthma can eat a normal diet. Occasionally, people with asthma may have allergic triggers, and will need to avoid foods such as cow's milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, yeast products, nuts and some food colourings and preservatives. But this is rare.

Many people with a long-term health condition experience feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.

You may find it helpful to talk about your experience of asthma with others in a similar position. Patient organisations have local groups where you can meet others who have been diagnosed with asthma and undergone treatment.

If you are experiencing feelings of depression, talk to your GP. They will be able to provide advice and support.

More information about looking after yourself can be found on our self care pages.