Ways to help yourself
Smoking causes irreversible damage, so if you continue to smoke it will continue to damage your lungs, and your COPD will get worse.
For the same reasons, it’s also important to avoid any contact with other possible causes of your COPD, such as harmful dust or fumes.
If you smoke and would like to quit, you can get help from Quit. 4 It’s a HSE online resource that can tell you about your local Stop Smoking Service, or can give you online support to fit around your work or other commitments
If you smoke, stopping is the most important part of your COPD treatment.
A balanced diet can help you manage your COPD, and can improve your general health and wellbeing. Each food group can help in a different way:
- Fruit and vegetables — contain vitamins and minerals that can boost your immune system and help it to prevent or fight infections
- Protein– keeps muscles strong, including the muscles you use to breathe
- Carbohydrates — give you energy
- Drinking plenty of fluids — can thin the mucus in your lungs, and make it easier to cough up (but if you have trouble sleeping, avoid caffeinated drinks in the evening)
If you find you’re too breathless to chew, eat soft foods little and often to get the nutrients you need.
Exercise doesn’t only benefit your lungs — it can increase muscle and bone strength, and reduce stress. Improving your fitness will also make it easier to do your normal everyday activities.
Breathlessness during exercise is normal, whether you have COPD or not. Starting with gentle exercise for short periods of time, and slowly building up your fitness levels, can help you recognise what’s normal for you and what’s not.
Speak to your doctor or nurse before you start exercising to make sure it’s safe, and that you’re not trying to do too much too quickly.
You may benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation — a HSE service that involves:
- Exercising with a group of other people with COPD
- Practising breathing exercises to help you manage your breathlessness
- Advice about nutrition
Your doctor or nurse will refer you if they think it’s appropriate for you.2
The HSE offers everyone with COPD a one-off pneumococcal vaccine, and a flu vaccine every year. These help prevent infections that could make your COPD worse during winter. You can get the flu vaccine from your GP or your local pharmacy. 5
The flu vaccine has been shown to help prevent COPD exacerbations.3
Some people with COPD find that singing helps them to manage their symptoms better. Singing regularly in a group is good for you, especially if you have a lung condition.
Date of preparation: November 2020
Approval code: RESP-IE-NP-00098
- COPD: Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. British Lung Foundation. https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0221/4446/files/BK2_Living_with_COPD_v3_2016_PDFdownload.pdf?10228718986500191116 Last accessed: November 2020.
- Global strategy for the diagnosis. management. and prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 2018 report. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease. https://goldcopd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/GOLD-2019-v1.7-FINAL-14Nov2018-WMS.pdf Last access: November 2020.
- Exacerbation of COPD. American Thoracic Society. https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/copd-exacerbation-ecopd.pdf Last accessed: November 2020.
- HSE Quit Smoking Website. Available at: https://www2.hse.ie/quit-smoking/ Last accessed: November 2020
- HSE Vaccine. Available at: https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/immunisation/pubinfo/flu-vaccination/about-the-vaccine/ Last accessed: November 2020