Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the general name for a collection of diseases which affect the lungs, including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease.
Often people with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis. People with COPD have trouble breathing in and out (airflow obstruction) and their lungs become inflamed due to irritation (usually by cigarette smoke).
It is not fully understood why or how COPD develops, but smoking is by far the most common cause of the condition because cigarette smoke inflames and damages the delicate lining of the airways.
In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly there are over 8,000 people that are living with COPD. This extends to nearly 900,000 people across the UK, but most people are not diagnosed and around 3 million people in the UK may have the condition. The older you are the more likely you are to develop COPD. The average age at which COPD is diagnosed in the UK is 67, usually after many years of less severe symptoms.
Over many years the inflammation leads to permanent changes in the lung. These changes cause airflow obstruction, where the flow of air into and out of the body is impaired. The airflow is reduced because the walls of the airways get thicker in response to the inflammation and more mucus is produced. Damage to the delicate walls of the air sacs in the lungs means the lungs lose their normal elasticity, and it becomes much harder work to breathe, especially on exertion.
Symptoms of COPD
It is the changes in the lungs that lead to the symptoms of COPD:
- breathlessness which often develops gradually over time, particularly on exertion
- cough although not everyone gets a cough
- phlegm although not everyone suffers from phlegm
Although any damage that has already occurred to your lungs cannot be reversed, you can prevent COPD from developing or getting worse by making changes to the way you live; and recommend stop smoking. People can self-refer via the Healthy Cornwall Website.
Asthma is a long-term condition that affects the airways, the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. There is no cure for asthma but there are effective treatments to help with symptoms. Asthma is 1 of a group of allergic conditions, including eczema and hay fever, which often occur together. People with asthma suffer with episodic symptoms of breathlessness, cough, wheeze and chest tightness, the mix of these symptoms varies from person to person.
Asthma is disease where symptoms of can vary in intensity. People can have periods of time with no or few symptoms, and times where symptoms are more troublesome. In most cases asthma can be controlled with treatment to enable people to be symptom free and live a normal life. It is important to continue to take preventative treatment even when you have no symptoms to maintain control of the disease.
Regular review with your GP or practice nurse (at least once per year) will help to ensure your treatment is appropriate for you, all people with asthma should be given a personal asthma action plan so you know what to do if symptoms worsen. Uncontrolled asthma can put you at risk of a serious or even life-threatening asthma attack so if you are suffering with asthma symptoms make an appointment with your GP or asthma practice nurse.
To check how well your asthma is controlled complete the asthma control test.
For more information, visit the Asthma UK website.
It can often help to talk about your condition with others, especially when first diagnosed. There are several local groups that provide support and meet on a regular basis.
Pensilva known as MIMS
Millennium House, Pensilva PL14 5NF. Mondays 10.30am to midday. Contact Anne on 07855 014577 or Vi on 01579 362287.
Wisemans gym, Torpoint. Contact Pat Tivnan on 01752 813613.
Passmore Edwards Institute, Hayle. Thursdays 1.30pm to 3.30pm. Contact April on 07813 767091 or Ian on 07767 838620 or just turn up. Anyone with COPD or any long-term condition is welcome.
The John Betjeman Centre, Southern Way, Wadebridge. Thursdays, midday to 1pm. Contact George Proctor on 01208 814416 or just turn up. Email George.
Breathe Falmouth Club is an exercise club for people with breathing problems and the effects of COPD. The group meets every Thursday, 10am to midday, at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Western Terrace, Falmouth TR11 4QJ. The exercises follow the hospital pulmonary rehabilitation programme. A private chartered physiotherapist visits the club regularly to ensure the quality of the exercise sessions. If you are interested in joining the club email Breathe Falmouth Club or call 01326 315165.
Helston Athletic Football Club, Kellaway Park Clodgey Lane TR13 8PJ. Thursdays 1.30pm to 3.30pm
Liskeard and southeast Cornwall
Liskeard and Southeast Cornwall Breather’s. Meet on Tuesday afternoons in the Liskerrett Centre, Liskeard from 1.30pm to 3pm. Contact Joe Barr on 07808 065935 or Mick Elliott on 07938 827220 or just show up. Anyone with COPD or any long-term condition is welcome.
Newquay Breathers Group
Newquay and surrounding areas
Summercourt Village Hall. Fridays, 1.30pm to 3.30pm. Contact Mary Curtis on 01872 248819 or just turn up. Anyone with COPD or any long-term condition is welcome.
Truro and surrounding areas
Threemilestone Community Centre. Tuesdays 1.30pm to 3.30pm. Call Mary Curtis on 01872 248819 or just turn up. Anyone with COPD or any long-term condition is welcome.
Mabe (Kernow Huffa Puffas)
Saltash Breathers’ group
Saltash Breathers Group, Saltash Leisure Centre. PL12 6DJ. Tuesdays 1.30pm to 3pm. Call Ron Chappell on 01752 932171 or Gavin Seymour on 07527 009739
St Ives Wheezers’ group
Macey Street Gym, Torpoint. Wednesdays from midday to 1pm. Call Pat Tivnan on 01752 813613 or just turn up. Anyone with COPD or any long-term condition is welcome.
Held at Marlborough Court (common room), Park Lane, Bideford EX39 2QN. Call 0300 003 0555 for more information.
Cardiac and respiratory groups (Includes COPD participants)
- Crackington Institute, Bude. Mondays. 10am to 11am Contact Mel Weldon on 07967 790458
- Gulworthy Parish Hall, Tavistock. Tuesdays. 10am to 11am. Contact Mel Weldon on 07967 790458
- Launceston Town Hall, Launceston. Thursdays 10am to 11am and 11.30am to 12.30pm. Contact Mel Weldon on 07967 790458
- Bodmin One for all community centre, Bodmin. Fridays 10am to 11am. Contact Mel Weldon on 07967 790458
- Redruth Community Centre. Thursdays, 1pm to 2.30pm. Contact Lucy Coates on 079617 25344 or just turn up.
Pulmonary fibrosis groups
Hayle breathing space and singing club meet. Townsend Village Hall, Townsend. Tuesdays 3.30pm to 4.30pm. Contact Sophie 07773 330393 or just turn up. Anyone with COPD or any long-term condition is welcome.
Looking after yourself
COPD cannot be cured with treatment, but medical treatments, breathing exercises, physical activity and stopping smoking can help control symptoms and limit disability. There is no cure for asthma, but with the right support and treatment you can control your symptoms and lead a healthy, active life.
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
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 is best. 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.
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.
The vaccines below 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-pneumococcal vaccination, a one-off injection that provides protection against a specific serious chest infection called pneumococcal pneumonia
Self-care is an integral part of daily life and is all about you taking responsibility for your own health and wellbeing 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 2 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.
You may be able to use a web-based health app to help you to manage your COPD. Ask your GP about the myCOPD health app.
Page last reviewed: 28 July, 2022