Tips for Handling Difficulties With Respiratory Illness, Asthma or COPD

During difficult or emergency situations for respiratory illnesses, caregivers should practice the following:

  • Change sleeping positions. Because of your loved one’s condition, normal activities such as walking or sleeping are often affected. Poor lung function interrupts sleep and makes it difficult to breathe when lying flat in bed. The doctor may suggest sleeping slightly upright, in a recliner, adjustable bed or propped up with pillows. A sleep test can help your loved one identify sleep issues that they may be at risk for, like sleep apnea.
  • Discuss openly about sexual issues. If your loved one is a spouse or partner, one issue that you may be dealing with that is often left unaddressed is problems with sexual intimacy. COPD and similar conditions are known to decrease sexual functioning as lung function declines. For most people, talking about sex and struggles in the bedroom is a sensitive topic. Communicating tactfully but openly is constructive.
  • Make a plan of action for flare-ups. Flare-ups are one difficulty that many patients with COPD face. Especially following a chest infection, his or her cough may worsen, more shortness of breath may occur and he or she may produce phlegm. The medical care team should provide detailed instructions on how to handle flare-ups and when it is necessary to contact them.
  • Follow emergency plan for asthma attacks. Those with asthma should have an emergency plan. In general, sit the person upright and loosen any tight clothing. If he or she has medication, caregivers can assist the patient with taking it. Depending on the severity of the attack, it may be necessary to seek immediate medical help or visit an emergency room.
  • Follow advanced care plans when symptoms become too severe. Even more serious than occasional flare-ups, people with long-term, severe lung conditions may be facing respiratory failure and end of life. While signs of end of life vary, some are difficulty swallowing, changes in skin color and involuntary twitches. The pulmonary care team can provide an advanced care plan that may include anticipatory medication to help ease physical symptoms.
  • Encourage healthy expression. COPD patients facing a life-altering diagnosis are at an increased risk of depression. The inability to control their condition and symptoms, plus the increased dependence on others, is discouraging to face. Coping with their diagnosis, current state or deterioration is difficult. Caregivers can encourage their loved ones to verbalize their feelings or ask the care team for resources and tips to develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Learn About Resources to Help Care for a Person With Respiratory Illness, Asthma or COPD

There are many resources to help you care for your loved one, better understand respiratory conditions and learn what you can do to help.

About Resources for People With Asthma

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s website has tools to find an allergist or immunologist in your area, search symptoms and ask experts pertinent questions. The Respiratory Health Association has a guide for helping a child with asthma, a smoke-free home toolkit and information on current clinical trials.

About Resources for People With COPD and Other Respiratory Illnesses

Look up The US Respiratory and Pulmonary Diseases which is a peer-reviewed, bi-annual journal with case reports and all the latest news on research and development. For those with COPD, COPD International has chat rooms for both patients and their caregivers to connect with others, as well as a wealth of other helpful information.

If your loved one has COPD or a similar condition, ask the doctor about a pulmonary rehab program. These programs help with support, education, exercise and increasing autonomy.

About Additional Online Resources

For help with quitting smoking, check out the Quit Smoking Community to connect with others, offer support and learn tips to kick the habit. If you are caring for an elderly loved one, the Medicare Rights Center can help you navigate the often-confusing insurance world.

The United States National Library of Medicine’s MedLine Plus website has an extensive list of resources including data, articles and information from the Medical Encyclopedia, American Thoracic Society, American Association for Respiratory Care, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Learn Ways to Improve Home Living Conditions

Take advantage of resources that help you make your home environment safe and comfortable for your loved one. If he or she uses a walker and has a hard time getting around, just simply taking time to remove throw rugs and clear the way of anything he or she could potentially trip on is a good start.

Search for home safety checklists or tips for improving indoor air quality such as changing air filters often or using a humidifier and fan. Use non-toxic home cleaners and stay away from body products, detergents or cleaners with a strong odor or fragrance. Improve the quality of indoor air to keep it clean and healthy so it doesn’t exacerbate your loved one’s condition.

Because COPD can cause fatigue, think of ways you can help conserve your loved one’s energy. This could mean moving things within reach or putting a shower chair in the shower so the person can rest while bathing.

Learn Caregiver Self-Care Strategies

Caring for someone with COPD, lung disease or other respiratory illnesses is difficult and demanding. You loved one is dependent on you for care, attention and support. Despite this, make sure to give yourself opportunities to practice self-care by doing the following:

  • Take a break and find ways to destress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or depressed, speak with your doctor of mental health professional. As a caregiver, you are at a higher risk of depression and experiencing burnout. It’s important to take time for yourself and practice some self-care. Enjoy a favorite hobby. Unwind and relax. Connect with some friends. Your own needs must be met in order for you to provide the best care and be your best self.
  • Reach out when you need to. Asking for help is a good thing. You can’t do it alone. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do. If there is another family member or friend who is willing to help out, give them a concrete way to help you, whether it’s bringing dinner once a week or chatting with you on the phone so you can vent your feelings.
  • Join a support group. Support groups are beneficial and a great way to connect with other caregivers who are experiencing many of the same challenges. Find a group that is positive and uplifting, but also offers solutions and strategies for handling difficulties. Avoid groups that are negative or spend the majority of the time complaining.

Caring for your loved one can be challenging, but also a blessing. You play an essential role in improving your loved one’s quality of life and ability to cope with his or her condition. Don’t underestimate your value or power. Love and support make a huge difference. For many people with respiratory illnesses, knowing that someone is with them, beside them, who cares for them is life changing and impactful.