How to manage Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)


What is COPD?

COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a group of progressive lung conditions including:

While COPD is an incurable disease, there are steps you can take to manage the condition and still enjoy a good quality of life. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, about one in 20 Australians aged 45 and over self-described as having had COPD in 2017-2018. Yet, the Lung Foundation of Australia states that around one in seven Australians over 40 years have COPD but as many as half of them don’t know they have it. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, COPD costs the Australian health system around $976.9 million each year and is the 5th leading cause of death.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

If you have COPD, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • feeling breathless
  • a new or persistent cough and
  • producing a lot of phlegm (mucus) 

Diagnosing COPD

If you’re experiencing some of the above symptoms and think you might have COPD, it’s best to see your GP. They will likely take your medical history and ask you some questions such as whether you smoke or have smoked in the past. Your GP can examine and listen to your chest. They can also use a spirometry test which involves breathing into a small machine called a spirometer. This test can show if you have COPD and help distinguish between COPD and some other conditions like asthma. Your GP may also suggest an x-ray of your chest or other tests.

What causes COPD?

According to the World Health Organization, the main cause of COPD is breathing in tobacco smoke. This includes second-hand or passive exposure. Other causes include exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution like occupational dusts and chemicals. If you frequently had lower respiratory infections during childhood, you might also be a greater risk of developing COPD.

Living with COPD

You usually can’t repair the damage to your lungs, but there are ways to slow progression of the condition.

1. Quit smoking

As smoking is the main cause of COPD, it’s important that you stop smoking as soon as you can. It can be difficult for some people to give up as it’s highly addictive. Some might find it helpful to replace smoking with a healthier habit and try to curb the behaviour that leads to the desire to smoke. You can find out more about how to quit smoking at the Department of Health.

2. Leave or change lung-damaging environments

Your workplace and living spaces should be safe for you to occupy. If you think that your work environment is affecting your lung health, you should speak to your manager. You should also keep your home clear of dust build-up and chemical fumes.

3. Stay healthy and active

It’s important to eat a healthy and nutritious diet and stay physically active. Regular exercise can help to reduce your symptoms of COPD including breathlessness. You should aim for at least 30 minutes, five times a week. You don’t have to do all of the 30 minutes at once. It’s a good idea to ask your health professional what the best type of exercise is for you.

4. Medications

Your doctor will most likely prescribe medicines to help you breathe easier. You’ll usually inhale these.  

5. Check your vaccinations are up to date

To reduce the risk of flare-ups, it’s important to make sure your vaccinations are up to date. These include influenza and pneumonia. It’s best to talk to your doctor about the best way to protect yourself against pneumonia.


Chronic disease management programs

A Chronic Disease Management Program (CDMP) can help you develop the knowledge and skills you need to take care of yourself when you have a chronic lung disease. A CDMP can help you make informed decisions about your health and work alongside your doctor to create a care plan. It can address your individual needs and ensure that treatment side effects are kept to a minimum.

The four main goals of COPD management are:

1. Assessing and monitoring the disease

2. Reducing risk factors

3. Maintaining and stabilising the condition

4. Managing flare-ups.

More information


All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified health care professional.

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