Look after your lungs this World COPD Day 2021

Man coughing with painful lungs

Today (17 November 2021) is COPD day, also known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It is a condition that makes it difficult to empty air out of the lungs because the airways have become narrowed.

For those living with COPD, it can affect many aspects of their lives and can be debilitating. 

What causes COPD?

COPD usually develops because of long-term damage to your lungs from breathing in a harmful substance, usually cigarette smoke, as well as smoke from other sources and air pollution. Jobs where people are exposed to dust, fumes and chemicals can also contribute to developing COPD.

You’re most likely to develop COPD if you’re over 35 and are, or have been, a smoker or had chest problems as a child.

Some people are more affected than others by breathing in noxious materials. COPD does seem to run in families, so if your parents had chest problems then your own risk is higher.

What’s the difference between COPD and asthma?

With COPD, your airways have become narrowed permanently – inhaled medication can help to open them up to some extent. With asthma, the narrowing of your airways comes and goes, often when you’re exposed to a trigger – something that irritates your airways – such as dust, pollen or tobacco smoke. Inhaled medication can open your airways fully, prevent and relieve symptoms by relaxing your airways.

So, if your breathlessness and other symptoms are much better on some days than others, or if you often wake up in the night feeling wheezy, it may be that you have asthma.

Because the symptoms are similar and because people who have asthma as children can develop COPD in later life, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the two conditions. Some people have both COPD and asthma.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

Symptoms include:

  • Getting short of breath easily when you do everyday things such as going for a walk or doing housework
  • Having a cough that lasts a long time
  • Wheezing in cold weather
  • Producing more sputum or phlegm than usual
  • You might get these symptoms all the time, or they might appear or get worse when you have an infection or breathe in smoke or fumes

If you have COPD that has a severe impact on your breathing, your appetite is affected, you lose weight and find that your ankles swell.

What are the treatments for COPD?

  • Having treatment and support to stop smoking
  • Having a flu jab every year and a one-off pneumonia vaccination
  • An exercise programme called pulmonary rehabilitation if your breathlessness stops you doing things
  • Having your own self-management plan
  • Identifying and managing your other health problems, because most people with COPD also have other long-term conditions
  • Taking medicine or combinations of medications to improve breathlessness and help prevent flare-ups

How can I manage my COPD?

It is important to take good care of yourself if you have COPD. There are lots of ways that you can help manage your condition, there is lots of information on the British Lung Foundation website, below are just a few things you can do:

Sleep and rest

Make sure you sleep well and get enough rest every day. This will help with your energy levels. For advice about how to get a good night’s sleep, have a look at the NHS' website article on how to get to sleep. Talk to your health care professional if that doesn’t help.

Ask for help if you need it

Ask your health care professional about ways you can adapt your home to help you move around more easily. An occupational therapist and your local council can help you with this.

Be aware of your symptoms

If your ankles swell, tell your health care professional. Medicines can help reduce this. But many people with COPD have other conditions, and leg swelling, or a rapid heartbeat can be a sign of a heart condition.

If you have concerns about early signs of a respiratory conditions, our expert male and female private GPs can discuss any concerns you have about your health. Private GP services will also arrange any tests, scans or follow-up appointments.

Book an appointment by completing our online booking form or by calling our Private Patient Team on 01580 363158.

Published on 17 November 2021