A Guide to COPD Self-Care

Medically Reviewed By Adithya Cattamanchi, M.D.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term inflammatory lung condition. In addition to medical treatments, COPD self-care approaches, such as managing stress, may help manage symptoms and slow the condition’s progression. COPD refers to two conditions that cause inflammation and difficulty breathing: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD symptoms include:

There is no cure for COPD. However, treatment and self-care approaches may help slow its progression and reduce or alleviate symptom flare-ups. They may also help improve your outlook and quality of life.

This article explains COPD self-care approaches backed by research and medical experts that may help support your health.

1. Quit smoking

Someone sits on top of a bed and performs deep breathing exercises.
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Smoking is known as the most common cause of COPD. It may also worsen your symptoms if you already have COPD. This can include using or exposure to:

If you have COPD and smoke, quitting smoking can help slow the progression of the condition. Methods to help you quit smoking can include:

  • talking with your doctor for effective treatment options
  • joining a class or local support group
  • taking nicotine replacements and gradually reducing your dosage, with guidance from your doctor

2. Use an air purifier or humidifier

Particles and irritants in the air may be significant triggers of COPD symptoms. Examples of air-borne irritants can include:

  • dust
  • fumes, vapors, and gasses
  • scents and sprays
  • water, such as due to high humidity

Air purifiers may help reduce your symptoms. These are devices equipped with a filter and a fan that remove harmful particles from the air. 

One 2021 study suggests that portable indoor air filters may improve COPD symptoms in former smokers. 

Some people may notice their symptoms worsening due to low air humidity. Conversely, symptoms may also worsen with high humidity. Depending on which triggers you, a dehumidifier or humidifier may be helpful for avoiding your specific trigger.

3. Avoid harsh scents and particle exposure

Some scents, fragrances, and other chemicals may trigger COPD flare-ups. These can include:

  • perfumes
  • hairsprays
  • candles, sprays, and incense
  • cleaning products
  • air fresheners
  • detergents and soaps

The American Lung Association (ALA) suggests using products that do not contain fragrance. 

If you are exposed to these irritants during work, talk with a doctor and your workplace safety advisor. Discuss with them how you can limit your exposure while at work and improve ventilation.

Also, consider wearing a respirator mask Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source that is approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health.

4. Practice breathing techniques

Your doctor may suggest practicing some breathing exercises. These can help strengthen your airway muscles and manage shortness of breath. 

COPD breathing exercises may include:

  • Pursed lip breathing: Pursed lip breathing may be helpful if you feel out of breath or are about to engage in physical activity. This involves breathing in slowly through your nose and breathing out gently through tightly pursed lips.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing: Diaphragmatic breathing helps you breathe more deeply. To do this, place a hand just below your rib cage and breathe in slowly through the nose. This should cause your belly to rise or move outwards. Then, exhale gently through pursed lips.
  • Controlled coughing: Controlled coughing may be helpful if you have mucus in your airways. This technique involves inhaling through your nose with your arms folded on your belly. Then, you will cough up to three times with brief coughs. 

Ask your doctor for advice on breathing techniques. This can include tips such as when, how, and how often to do them.

Learn more about pursed lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing.

5. Get vaccinated

COPD can cause breathing difficulties due to your airways swelling and mucus blocking the airway passage. If you develop an infection, this may increase the swelling and worsen your COPD symptoms.

People with COPD may also have a relatively high risk of developing Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source pneumonia from respiratory infections. Pneumonia is a serious inflammation of the lungs that can be life threatening.

Keeping up to date with all your vaccinations and asking your doctor about any missed vaccinations can help protect you against serious infections. This can include Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source vaccination against:

6. Follow a COPD diet plan

There is no set COPD diet to improve your condition. However, a diet including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods may help manage your COPD symptoms. This is according to a 2019 literature review Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source .

An antioxidant and anti-inflammatory diet may involve prioritizing the following foods:

  • whole grains
  • nuts and seeds
  • whole or minimally processed fruits and vegetables
  • lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, and beans
  • other legumes, such as peas and pulses

Read more about how to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods.

7. Manage stress

According to the National Emphysema Foundation, stress can worsen COPD symptoms. It may also make you more prone to experiencing anxiety, faster breathing, and shortness of breath.

Below are some tips that may help you manage stress:

  • Get regular physical activity.
  • Avoid eating processed foods.
  • Get good quality sleep.
  • Prioritize your tasks.
  • Join a support group.
  • Talk with a therapist or counselor.
  • Discuss anti-anxiety medications with your doctor.

8. Get regular physical activity

Your doctor can offer advice on the type and amount of physical activity that may be best for you.

For example, they may recommend exercising for 20–30 minutes 3 or 4 days per week with COPD. This may help:

  • reduce stress
  • increase your energy levels
  • improve your sleep
  • increase your muscle strength

9. Improve your sleep quality

Research Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggests that experiencing sleep disorders with COPD is common. This may be due to experiencing symptoms that disrupt your sleep. These can include shortness of breath and waking up coughing.

A 2022 study Trusted Source American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Peer reviewed journal Go to source also suggests that poor sleep quality may be linked to worse outcomes with COPD.

Some self-care methods to help improve your sleep include:

  • going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day
  • engaging in relaxing activities before bedtime, such as reading a book
  • using window shades to prevent outdoor light from entering your room
  • avoiding using your phone or other blue screens right before sleep
  • making sure your sleeping area is dark and quiet

Read more tips to help improve your sleep quality.

10. Follow your treatment plan

Make sure to follow the treatment plan and recommendations your medical team provides.

If you have any questions or are struggling to follow your treatment plan, contact your doctor for advice. Do not make any changes to your plan without first consulting your doctor.

11. Stay in contact with your doctor

Researchers from a 2020 review Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source recommend following up with a doctor if you are experiencing a flare-up of COPD symptoms.

Also, contact your doctor if you have questions or feel like your treatment is not effective. It is important to keep your regular checkups and appointments you schedule with your medical team.

Summary

COPD self-care approaches can be an important part of treatment. They may help reduce flare-ups, alleviate symptoms, and reduce your risks of complications.

Examples of COPD self-care tips include quitting smoking, avoiding other irritating air particles, and improving your sleep quality. Other approaches can include following an anti-inflammatory food plan, staying up to date with your vaccinations, and practicing breathing techniques.

Make sure to keep your regular checkups with your doctor and contact them for any questions or advice.

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Medical Reviewer: Adithya Cattamanchi, M.D.
Last Review Date: 2023 Jun 27
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.