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Self-care for COPD

If you've been diagnosed with COPD, you can stop it getting worse. It will not ever go away completely but there are things you can do to stay well and to make your symptoms less severe.

Being smokefree

If you smoke, you should stop smoking. This is by far the best way to reduce your symptoms and prevent your condition from getting any worse. If you're having difficulty stopping smoking, speak to your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist.

Physical activity

Keeping as active as possible is an important part of helping your breathing.

There are several ways to increase the amount of activity you do in your day.

You can get support to help you. Ask your GP about Support for getting active.

The Canterbury Better Breathing programme is specially aimed at people with COPD.

You can go along to a Canterbury community respiratory support and exercise group.

Learn to manage flare-ups

Worsening symptoms like increased coughing, wheezing, breathlessness and a change in the colour of your sputum (phlegm) is called a flare-up or exacerbation.

If you've developed a plan with your doctor or nurse, you can start treating a flare-up at home.

Your plan will often include having a supply of antibiotics and prednisone (oral steroid tablets) that you can start taking. If you take them, make a note of what you've taken and when.

If you're following your plan and aren't improving or are concerned, see your GP.

If you're getting better, see your GP a week after starting your antibiotics so they can assess your health and you can refill your emergency prescriptions.

It may take up to a month before you feel normal again. Continue to keep active to maintain your strength.

Learn to manage breathlessness

Finding ways to manage your breathlessness and the anxious feeling it can cause can allow you to enjoy more activities.

Though often frightening, it's important to know being breathless doesn't usually mean you're short of oxygen.

Simple measures such as having cold air blowing across your face from a fan and finding the right body position can help. See Breathlessness strategies for COPD for more suggestions.

The Canterbury Better Breathing programme will give you options for controlling and improving your breathing.


It's important to have an annual flu vaccination. If you have COPD, you're more likely to be seriously affected by catching the flu or getting a chest infection after having the flu.

Keep up to date with COVID-19 booster vaccinations.

You should also get a pneumococcal vaccination that protects against a particular type of bacterial infection that can cause a serious lung infection. You may have to pay for this vaccination.

Weight and nutrition

Keeping close to a normal weight (not too high, not too low) is good if you have COPD. Some people with COPD have difficulty putting weight back on, especially after infections.

Your doctor will check your body mass index (BMI) and offer advice on whether you need to lose or gain weight. Keeping active is a good way to stay a healthy weight as it builds up your muscles.

Keep your home warm and dry

It's important for your health to keep your home warm and dry.

Keeping your home warm & dry has information about subsidies and support for heating and insulation.

The Asthma Foundation has some useful information about keeping your home healthy.

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On the next page: COPD medications

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2021.

Page reference: 53520

Review key: HICOP-16602